Half Truth

I didn't steal your password to watch movies this week. Does something feel a little deceptive about that sentence? The addition of this week implies that there's more to the story. Maybe the next sentence would be I stole your password last week. This sneaky wording presents only part of the truth

Half Truth Half Truth

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Contents
Table of contents

    Definition of a Half-Truth

    Presenting part of the truth is also called presenting a half-truth.

    A half-truth is a deceptive statement that contains some, but not all, elements of the truth.

    Despite its name, a half-truth is not considered a truth at all. Benjamin Franklin included this adage in his book Poor Richard's Almanack (1758):1

    Half a truth is often a great lie.

    With this saying, Benjamin Franklin points out that omitting parts of the truth is deceptive, just like lying outright. Even if a statement is technically true, when it leaves out crucial pieces of information, it can't be considered a truth.

    Presenting Part of the Truth, Benjamin Franklin Key Illustration, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Benjamin Franklin said, "Half the truth is often a great lie."

    The term half-truth primarily describes an intentionally-deceptive statement. However, this isn't always the case; a half-truth can result from a simple mistake in logic or disorganized writing. The problem is that an accidental half-truth could seem like an intentional half-truth to the audience. It's important to be able to recognize half-truths to avoid accidentally creating them in your own writing.

    Purpose of Presenting Half of the Truth

    The purpose of a half-truth is to present a speaker or argument in a flattering way. This can mean evading blame, inflating importance or power, or projecting confidence.

    Presenting Part of the Truth, person lying pinocchio illustration, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Lying by presenting part of the truth is still lying.

    Evading blame: half-truths are often used to help the speaker avoid responsibility or blame. When the most incriminating parts of a story are removed, the speaker seems innocent.

    Inflating importance or power: a half-truth can erase the speaker's guilt and exaggerate the speaker's role in favorable situations. The person who added the least to a group project can place their name at the top of the paper and claim a large portion of the work.

    Projecting confidence: a half-truth can make a shaky opinion seem like a hard fact. It uses clever wording to strengthen an argument or weaken an opposing argument. This kind of half-truth is common in data bias, where data is presented selectively to make a theory seem stronger than it is.

    Example of a Half-Truth

    The tricky factor of a half-truth is that it doesn't directly say anything false. This can sometimes make a half-truth difficult to spot. These examples demonstrate each purpose of a half-truth.

    Evading Blame

    Revealing only part of the truth can help a guilty speaker reduce or entirely avoid blame in a situation. Take this example:

    I was just driving by your house and saw that your mailbox is broken.

    This seems truthful ... but the speaker actually saw that the mailbox was broken because he hit it with his car while driving.

    The half-truth makes the speaker seem innocent. The speaker uses it to avoid telling the whole truth: that the mailbox and the car are now ruined.

    Inflating Importance or Power

    This example shows how half-truths can make a speaker seem more important, knowledgeable, or powerful.

    You can trust my cousin with all your medical needs. She's a doctor.

    This sentence conveniently leaves out that the cousin has a doctorate in archaeology.

    Wording the sentence this way makes the speaker's cousin seem knowledgeable and competent as a "doctor." It misrepresents her true expertise in archaeology as medical knowledge.

    Projecting Confidence

    Presenting part of the truth can make ideas, beliefs, and theories seem like solid facts. It can help a speaker come across as more confident than they really are. This is common when presenting data, like in this example:

    Our study proves that this ingredient is harmful to plants. This directly contradicts a previous study claiming that the ingredient is safe.

    The speaker doesn't mention that the ingredient was only harmful to two plant samples in the study, and only at 100% concentration.

    The speaker makes a bold statement and discredits another study, leaving out their own study's limits. The results don't support the speaker's conclusion as strongly as the statement claims.

    You likely have used or heard a half-truth without even realizing it! Think back to a time you tried to avoid blame or project confidence. Did you present a half-truth?

    Characteristics of a Half-Truth Presentation

    Truth can be bent or omitted in multiple ways.

    • leaving out important information
    • using misleading wording
    • taking advantage of double meaning.

    These examples show each half-truth characteristic in action.

    Leaving Out Important Information

    Selectively sharing parts of a story while leaving out others allows the speaker to control the story.

    I organized a search party, and the missing person was brought to safety by the end of the day.

    This sentence leaves out the fact that the missing person came to the police alone before the search party started looking for her.

    Everything in the example sentence is true, but vital information is missing. The missing information changes the audience's understanding of the events.

    Using Misleading Wording

    Misleading wording can distract the audience from missing information.

    "This island of yours we're going to—I haven't heard anything about it before. Is it some kind of secret?"

    "In a way," Hammond said. "We have been very, very careful about making sure nobody

    knows about it, until the day we finally open that island to a surprised and delighted

    public."

    This is an excerpt from the 1990 book Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton.2 The character John Hammond explains to Alan Grant that he purchased a remote island to genetically engineer dinosaurs. His answer to Grant's question implies that he keeps the project secret in order to surprise the public. In reality, he keeps it secret to hide it from the government and competing businesses. He uses this half-truth to convince Grant that the project is legitimate and well-controlled.

    Half Truth, Dinosaur, StudySmarterFig. 3 - In Jurassic Park, John Hammond uses a half-truth when explaining why he kept his project a secret.

    Taking Advantage of Double Meaning

    Some half-truths are deceptive because they purposely remove vital information. Others are deceptive because they are easily misinterpreted. Words and phrases with double meanings can be used to blur the truth.

    I'm having an old friend for dinner."3

    This quote is from the 1991 movieThe Silence of the Lambs. After escaping prison, the serial killer "Hannibal the Cannibal" says the cheeky line, "I'm having an old friend for dinner." The most common interpretation of the sentence is that he is inviting a friend over; but of course, Hannibal truly means that the old friend is his dinner. The sentence's double meaning makes Hannibal's true intent less clear.

    Half-Truth Fallacy

    Half-truths are deceptive because they can lead the audience to false conclusions. This is a common rhetorical fallacy resulting from half-truths.

    A fallacy is a failure in reasoning which results in an unsound argument.

    The half-truth fallacy refers to drawing false conclusions based on a half-truth.

    Whether intentional or unintentional, presenting part of the truth creates a deceptive argument. Here is an example of the faulty conclusions that result from the half-truth fallacy.

    Imagine this sentence in a local news article:

    Ever since the new mayor was elected, the city's initiative to end homelessness has been more successful than ever.

    This statement doesn't mention that the city's initiative to end homelessness was only put into place a week before the new mayor was elected. The initiative is only more successful than ever because it's brand new. In fact, the new mayor doesn't support the initiative and hopes to get rid of it within the next year.

    What is the problem with the half-truth in this example? The news article leaves out the fact that the new mayor hasn't really improved the initiative. This could lead the readers to the false conclusion that the mayor is actively helping to end homelessness. It could lead voters who support the initiative to vote for somebody who stands against it. The statement creates a half-truth fallacy that misleads potential voters.

    The audience in this example could avoid being misled by asking follow-up questions: how did the mayor contribute to the initiative? What are the mayor's plans for the initiative moving forward? Asking questions and reading critically will help you avoid the half-truth fallacy.

    Half Truth - Key Takeaways

    • A half-truth is a deceptive statement that contains some, but not all, elements of the truth.
    • The purpose of a half-truth is to present a speaker or argument in a flattering way. This can mean evading blame, inflating importance or power, or projecting confidence.
    • Truth can be bent or omitted in multiple ways, including leaving out important information, using misleading wording, and taking advantage of double meaning.
    • The half-truth fallacy refers to drawing false conclusions based on a half-truth.
    • Asking questions and reading critically will help you avoid the half-truth fallacy.

    1 Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack (1758).

    2 Michael Chrichton, Jurassic Park (1990).

    3 Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

    Frequently Asked Questions about Half Truth

    What is presenting half the truth?

    A half-truth is a deceptive statement that contains some, but not all, elements of the truth.

    What is it called when you present half of the truth?

    Presenting part of the truth is also called presenting a half-truth. A half-truth is a deceptive statement that contains some, but not all, elements of the truth.

    What are examples of presenting half of the truth?

    The truth can be bent or omitted in multiple ways, including:


    • leaving out important information
    • using misleading wording
    • taking advantage of double meaning.

    What does "a half-truth is a whole lie" mean?

    In his book of adages, Poor Richard's Almanack (1758), Benjamin Franklin wrote, "half a truth is often a great lie." Even if it includes elements of the truth, a half-truth is always deceptive.

    Is a half-truth considered a truth?

    A half-truth includes some, but not all, elements of the truth. It is inherently deceptive and is considered a lie.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Equivocation is a(n) _____ fallacy.

    Equivocation is using the _____ ambiguously throughout an argument. 

    _____ sound the same but have different meanings.

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