How to spot a liar : Excessively formal language

If you have ever fancied yourself as a person with something valuable to say, you have probably wished to give a TED talk. As TED lays it out crisply on their website : “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.”

Everyone who is anyone has spoken at TED : American Presidents, Silicon Valley CEOs, top tier academics and the like. This is the sort of place where someone like Dr. Shashi Tharoor might be found discussing profound matters of world interest.

He is cool, isn’t he? More on this later in an unrelated part of this article.

It’s rather clear that it’s a tremendous honor to be in the list of Top 20 TED talks. One of these Top 20 talks was given by Pamela Meyer on “How to spot a liar”.

Pamela Meyer, whose fascination with the science of lying began with sitting through a lecture at her Harvard Business School reunion in 2006, is the author of the book “Liespotting : Proven Techniques to detect deception“.

I know. We all tell lies. As Pamela points out:

By the time we enter this work world … we enter a world that is just cluttered with spam, fake digital friends, partisan media, ingenious identity thieves, metaphoric data, world class ponzi schemers, P Chidambarams … a deception epidemic

To be fair, I may have inserted a few word(s) in that quote along with some random, unrelated links. But then this part of the article is about lying, isn’t it?

Well, the first symptom that Pamela provides in her list of liespotting techniques is “Verbal dodging”, i.e., excessively formal language that the liar uses to create some psychological distance between her/himself and the lie.

Pamela goes on to illustrate this phenomenon with one of the most famous lies ever told (Youtube screenshot)


She explains: “Well, what were the telltale signs? Well, first we heard what’s known as a non-contracted denial. Studies show that people who are over-determined in their denial will resort to formal rather than informal language. We also heard distancing language — that woman. We know that liars will unconsciously distance themselves from their subject, using language as their tool.

Enough about lying. Let’s come to the other topic of this post which is absolutely, blaringly, categorically, definitively and entirely unrelated to the discourse on liespotting techniques presented in any of the preceding paragraphs.

We will now have a discussion of how cool Dr. Shashi Tharoor is. You know, I think he becomes even more cool when I guess he would be angry. Like the time Arnab’s Republic TV claims to have some “expose” and for some reason #SunandaMurderTapes starts trending on top of Twitter.


A farrago? Well, thank goodness for the internet.


Thanks to him, people of the cattle class have  now been enriched with this old Latin word for cattle fodder. Didn’t I tell you how cool he is? This brings back memories. I think it was in 2013 that I learned words like “recuse” and “lacerate” how to properly use them in a sentence. And they said being a news junkie never did anyone any good.

Most importantly, we learn that no matter what, guys like Shashi Tharoor will always be cool.


13 thoughts on “How to spot a liar : Excessively formal language

  1. Sir we could understand that during congress rule, delhi police & state govt coluded with law enforcement agencies to protect Tharoor but now after 3 years of NDA regime, with a fleet of CBI , RAW etc at their disposal, why modis & shahs are not taking on Tharoor is beyond my understanding.
    Please enlighten us poor souls on why BJP is silent & is in fact preventing a crackdown on media crooks like Tharoor.


    1. Lately, it has become common to hammer on NDA/BJP/Modi government for not going after the crooks, corrupts and known anti-nationals, including Presstitute reporters. At Mediacrooks, Ravinar devoted last two blogs attacking BJP/Modi Sarkar. We are forgetting that in our system the government has a limit to go after all undesirables. If the government had a final say, Narendra Modi would have been in a jail a long time ago because the Sonia/MMS Sarkar used all its might using CBI, NIA, courts etc. to go after Narendra Modi. We criticized them left and right. Now we cannot expect Mr. Modi to stoop to that level. Remember they were as much convinced about Modi’s culpability as we are about our enemies. Besides, it is hard to estimate how much sympathy towards Modi made him more popular. Perhaps, Modi government believes that the sight/news of popular corrupts such as Sonia, Rahul, Chidu in jail may give them more sympathy and hence more popularity. Perhaps, Modi believes they are more useful out side than inside the jail.


      1. Sir again if BJP govt ignores or even prevents a detailed judicial probe into what we can call a ‘cold blooded murder’, all for the sake of keeping liberals away from getting so called ‘sympathy wave’, &maybe for the fear of loosing power, then aren’t BJP guys bigger culprits?? Isn’t govt equally criminally culpable for not putting down criminals behind bars?


        1. Again you are thinking government can do whatever it want to. It is court and not government who could punish. Plus, our system convicts somebody ONLY when the crime is proven “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” and good lawyers can very easily create some reasonable doubt. Case in point, the open and shut cases against Salman Khan. Even if Modi government has not played any part, these culprits when they get free on technicality, they will shout from the roof-top vendetta…vendetta and with the help of our Presstitute media will get tremendous free publicity.


          1. Dear Mr. Josh,

            Can you please explain why Arun Jaitley’s Finance Ministry appears to be hell-bent on strangling any moves to bring corrupt people from the previous government dispensation to justice? It is NOT a good excuse to say that only courts can convict. The government must at least TRY to prosecute. If the judiciary indulges in arbitrary acts, such as granting bail to Teesta over the phone while denying bail to Sadhvi Pragya for months on end, people will know the true face of the judiciaary. But this government is not even trying! I am sorry but I am not persuaded by your argument.


            1. Professor Saheb: I will hold my ears lobs and say I was mistaken if and when Sonia, Rahul and others go to jail in NH case. If they get exonerated on technicality and keep shouting vendetta…vendetta and with the help of Presstitute media, they go much higher than 44 seats in 2019, you may agree with me. These corrupts are good in destroying one or two vital documents to create reasonable doubt. Our best bet is the continued perception of them being corrupt.


        2. Here is what I will say. I think BJP does have a right to maintain certain “political assets” for use at right time. Secondly, you can see with your own eyes how BJP has progressively taken control of media narrative. We now have a fairly strong RW media contingent, from Times Now to Republic to NewsX in English and India Tv / Zee News in Hindi.

          Slowly but surely, the establishment is being broken. Even in a war, soldiers walk very carefully on territory captured from the enemy. Because the enemy always leaves behind booby traps. Congress must have left behind a minefield. They are not idiots. Congress ruled for 70 years.


          1. Dear Sujoy and Mr. Josh,

            After your clarifications I revise my opinion. If the trials proceed and a corrupt judge lets them off (quite possible) then it will be egg on the face of the BJP, as Mr. Josh has pointed out. On the other hand, as Sujoy has pointed out, it is probably better for the BJP to prolong the agony of the corrupt people. Finally, the English media now falling over itself trying to out-Republic Republic if I may coin a phrase. Times TV simply BLASTED Akhilesh Yadav for his comment on martyrs, and India Today TV broke a scandal regarding Kejriwal funnelling money to his relatives. Such things would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago. Here are some links:

            I can’t seem to readily find the one where Times blasted Akhilesh.


            1. Prof. Vidyasagar,
              About corruption cases…my feeling really is this. Do we really expect to find the big UPA guys accepting cash bribes? No, they are smarter than that. The bribes are in the form of “You buy shares of my company at 10 times the market price and my ministry will give you XYZ contract”. The corruption is obvious because of the remarkable sequence of events, but *technically* it can still be argued in court of law that they were just coincidences. It’s hard to see how one can meet the “proven beyond reasonable doubt” standard of criminal conviction. If the court thinks there is a 99% chance they took bribe, they will still be acquitted due to that 1% of doubt.

              Even a small hawala operator like Satyendra Jain who did just 16 crore of corruption created 5-6 levels of fake companies to create plausible deniability. The UPA biggies were doing 1000s of crores worth of corruption. They must have 500 levels of fake companies to circulate their money.

              Especially with superlawyers like Sibal, who even have connections within … See how Teesta got bail on the phone.

              As such, in my view, the only practicable punishment for corruption cases is to keep stretching them in the court and torture the accused, creating a cloud over their political career.


      2. MediaCrooks is really caustic blog.I don’t mind people on RW being critical of BJP,it is actually a good thing considering the lack of opposition,but the fact is that Media Crooks’s rants are mostly devoid of much common sense and nuance.

        He rants and rants only,without any meaning.Much like AS here.He talks about Kashmor and other security issue without having any proper knowledge or cogent arguments about it.Now that doesn’t mean that all is right with what the Govt is doing in Kashmor or other places,far from it.I actually find the “kadi ninda” bomb joke and other lampooning of the Home minister quite fun and in good taste.

        But just because there are problems,doesn’t mean every criticism or rant is right.People should stick to what their expertise is In Mediacrooks case,mediacrooks obviously.Plus i have heard from many he has a huge ego.

        anyway i just avoid the guy


        1. He also has 15 million viewers! 🙂

          Seriously, in his latest blog “Some Pricks For ModiSarkar,” he trashes Maneka Gandhi, Prakash Javadekar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh, and Arun Jaitley. Other than Rajnath Singh, I agree that the rest are pure duffers. Rajnath Singh has the unenviable task of maintaining our internal security while appearing to be open-minded. People in that should position should be judged by results, not the diplomatic inanities that their position forces them to mouth.

          Having said all this, if I compare the Mediacrooks blogs before the election to now, he has gone quite far downhill in terms of sounding shrill and repetitive. I must admit that four years ago I used to check his web site daily to see if he has written anything new. Now I check perhaps once a month.


          1. Well he sure has an ego larger than 15 million people

            Frankly the only minister i have a problem with and think should be replaced asap is venkahiah. That guy is just A grade at chamchagiri,but his record of work is not very good.His abbreviations are not impressive either.And Uma Bharati also

            Prakash Javedkar and Maneka Gandhi are not very impressive either,but not that bad either.While maneka ganshi is probably unhinged seeing some of the decision she makes and also is a political traitor at this point,Prakash javedkar has been slow in doing anything about Education.

            I agree with you Rajnath has a difficult job,and i think he has done fairly well.Almost no one remembers the time when reading about bomb blasts and terrorist attacks was a common phenomena!and i don’t see anything wrong with Prasad.

            and i still believe that jaitley is just made the scapegoat of RW on anything that goes wrong.”hey BJP lost delhi election:it’s all because of jaitley!” while no one mentions that he was able to get the GST passed,something which would not have been possible without backroom dealings,endless negotiations,numerous phone calls and who knows what else.

            Of course the fact that people like Swamy who want the guy’s job are also major factors in this.


  2. After returning to India yesterday, I finally got to watch Republic TV yesterday. I found the graphics and presentation style jarring and disappointing. It was like watching a laser show at a carnival, and not a news show. They clearly have a lot of ammunition stored up, thanks mainly to all other news channels being corrupt and complicit. But unless they present whatever they have to say in a simple and straight-forward manner, I for one will just read their twitter feeds and not watch the channel itself. The “debates” are typical Arnab style. I never liked to watch them earlier even when I agreed with Arnab’s viewpoint, and I don’t like to watch them now.

    Anyone else feel the same way?


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