Little White Lies

Little White Lies

LEVEL 3, 2, 4 |

The truth doesn't always work. Sometimes we need to use little white lies to keep the people we care about feeling good.


Voiced by Gregory Theiner and Naomi Nathan

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Little White Lies

Little white lies are untruths we say when we don't want to hurt someone's feelings. We can also use these lies to reduce embarrassment or distress. I think they are called “white lies” to show they are good, not like regular lies which could be seen as “black”. Most of us have used little white lies at one time or another.

A classic situation that comes to mind is receiving gifts. Many times, people want you to open their gifts in front of them. This drives me crazy! Why? Well, there are people who know just what to buy me – exactly what I would have purchased for myself. Then, there are the others who basically have no clue as to what I might like. Their presents are headed for the rubbish bin ASAP. Yet first, I have to say something nice to the person who is standing there, watching me unwrap the gift, eagerly awaiting my pleased reaction. That's when the little white lie is so handy.

In order for the little white lie to be effective, it has to ring true. So, you can't just say any old thing that pops into your mind. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

1. Wow! What an unusual bracelet (=name of the gift)!

“Wow! What an unusual bracelet!”

This little white lie is perfect for gifts you don't like. For example, the tie you will never wear, the serving dish you will never use, or the artwork you will never display. The word “unusual” sounds like a compliment, something rare that is worth having. Thus, your hearer feels that you are saying something positive. This little white lie won't work for every gift, though. In my opinion, it doesn't really suit gifts such as books or after shave.

2. Sorry, I'd love to join you but I have other plans.

Here's a little white lie for getting out of invitations which you'd rather not attend. It's best to use this option for engagements and definite dates and times. Otherwise, the other person could just change the arrangement to when you don't have “other plans”.

3. I haven't finished (verb+ing) (item/items) (continuation) yet.

“I haven't finished reading that book you gave me yet.”
“I haven't finished fixing the cupboard doors in the kitchen yet.”

You were supposed to do something. You didn't. Perhaps it flew out of your mind. Maybe you remember very well but just can't get up the energy to do it. For whatever reason, the action didn't get done. That means it isn't finished yet, right? No need to say the action isn't even started. This only makes the other person feel that the action they asked for help with is not important to you – the book isn't worth reading; the kitchen cupboards can remain broken for all you care.

4. I prefer ...

“I prefer skirts but you look good in those pants.”
“I prefer pancakes but you look like you're enjoying that egg.”

The idea here is to say “ yuck!” in a polite way. When we say, “I prefer”, we are stating a fact. People usually feel less bad about facts.

Let's look at some conversations connected to this topic.

Anna: Greg, Happy Birthday! (giving him a gift)
Greg: Hi, Anna. Thanks! I'll open it when I get home.
Anna: Open it, open it now.
Greg: Oh, Anna! What an interesting calendar!
Anna: I'm glad you like it.

*  *  *  *  *
Dad: Dad, what's happening with the bookshelves you and Uncle John are building for us?
Granddad: We haven't finished them yet.
Dad: Really?! It's been over six months.
Granddad: You're right. We're planning to start them next week.

(This last sentence can also be considered a little white lie. Planning is nothing definite. Hopefully, it will work out.)

*  *  *  *  *
Rita: Susan, I'm having a get-together for a few friends. I'd like to invite you. It's next Friday after work.
Susan: What a lovely idea, Rita! I'd love to join you, but I have other plans. Perhaps another time.

*  *  *  *  *
Wife: Isn't this the prettiest dress you ever saw? I just love these colours.
Husband: I prefer monotone clothes, but you look good in it.

It's very important that little white lies are like doctors; they do no harm. As long as this is our goal, it's my opinion that using little white lies from time to time is very important. These lies keep the people we care about feeling good.