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Everyday Lies

Switchboard is busy

An untruth exposed

In order to lie you need first to believe that the truth is knowable, which no one really doubts: for if the truth were not knowable, the truth that it was not knowable would itself not be knowable. Therefore everyone can lie, and most people do so when they deem it necessary or convenient. Some lie all the time, for the practice or the pleasure, as it were, preferring to deceive than to enlighten. Liars are like the poor — you have them with you always.

We accept little lies as we accept the weather, without protest and as an inevitable part of the environment in which we live. But sometimes they infuriate and we find ourselves impotent to combat them.

In the days when I wrote for a famous newspaper, which shall be nameless, I used when I called my editor to have to go through the newspaper’s switchboard to reach him. Every time I did so — and it was many times — there came an automated message: switchboard is very busy today. This explained in advance why you would have a long time to wait as you listened to a snatch of “Greensleeves” over and over again.

The message was a subtle lie. Perhaps in one sense it might even have been true: switchboard was very busy today. But why add the word today to the message Switchboard is very busy? Surely it was intended to create the false impression that the caller just happened to have been unlucky and called at a busy time when what was really meant was We prefer to keep you waiting and costs down to employing extra telephonists whose wages would eat into our profits.

The frustrating thing was that you just had to swallow the lie, for to whom could you have complained without wasting more of your time?

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