“The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.”
(Will Rogers)

It is not golf per se that is a lie, of course, but the discussion of golf and the egoprotection and dominance-seeking function enacted in dissembling one’s accomplishments. For centuries people have used speech to dissemble and present that which is not as though it is, prompting Quintillian (circa 100 A.D.) to advise that “A liar should have a good memory.” Indeed, as Kenneth Burke notes, rhetoric — speech — is a particularly well-suited medium for the presentation of “the negative,” or that which is not.

While a common fear about the Internet is that it makes it easy to lie to people online, apparently people find little difficulty prevaricating without the Internet. In a 1975 study—predating Internet—Turner, Edgley, and Olmstead asked participants to log their conversations, then code them regarding honesty; approximately two-thirds of their conversations were admittedly less-than-honest. According to a review by Burgoon, Buller, and Woodall (1996, p. 430), motivations to deceive “have to do with basic needs, affiliation, cognitive consistency, and entertainment.” As long as these basic, healthy needs are addressed through face-to-face communication, we should fear that this medium will be used for deception as it appears to have historically been.

Sexual deception and coercion

“I never had sex with that woman Ms. Lewinski.”
(W. J. Clinton, Jan. 17, 1998, in NY Times, Sept. 12, 1998).

It is widely reported that individuals use speech to deceive prospective sexual
partners about their intents or their marital status in order to foster sexual activity.
Indeed, there are cases in which partners who are in committed relationships nevertheless
use talk to deny such a commitment, or to fool and make false promises to sexual
conquests using talk. While users of speech are warned that such events are quite
common, these events nevertheless seem to take place in many cultures and throughout
the ages:

“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,–
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.”
(Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing)

More recently, scholars are examining the dynamics of sexual coercion (Spitzberg,
1998) and patterns of communication typifying obsessional intrusion and stalking, much
of which takes place through telephones but much of which emanates from face-to-face
relationships (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998).


An alarming degree of verbal abuse has been noted in talk. While insulting,
name-calling, and swearing, tend to be over-reported activities as relate to computermediated
communication (Walther, Anderson, & Park, 1994) there is evidence that its
face-to-face analogue, verbal abuse, is rampant in face-to-face interaction. Particularly
troubling is its presence in intimate relationships (e.g. Yelsma, 1995). Clearly, verbosity
and the purposes to which talk is put are undermining some of the most important social
institutions in many individuals’ lives.