"It's a Transitive Verb Meaning 'Told This Falsehood,'" He Lied:

Is there something odd or stilted -- or inadvertently jocular -- about the usage "'I didn't do it,' he lied"? I've seen it used before, in the same contexts that one would see "he said"; but while one would say "he said the answer" we wouldn't usually say (I think) "he lied the answer."

Generally speaking, "lie" is either an intransitive verb meaning "To present false information with the intention of deceiving" (I quote the American Heritage Dictionary here) or a transitive verb meaning "To cause to be in a specific condition ... by telling falsehoods," as in "You have lied yourself into trouble." Is "lie" nonetheless used as a transitive verb, with "X lied Y" meaning "X said Y with the intention of deceiving"? Or, even if "X lied Y" isn't idiomatic, it's nonetheless fully idiomatic to say "'Y,' X lied"?

(Let's set aside the question whether "he lied" violates the "show, don't tell" maxim of fiction writing. Assume that this is in a work of nonfiction, or that otherwise we're not worried about this storytelling principle.)

EV: Just remember that 'proper English' is a myth promulgated by the English-teacher cartel and all will become clear to you. Good English is whatever works.
9.25.2006 6:39pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I don't think you need to convince Eugene of that as a general principle.
9.25.2006 6:40pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Somewhat off-topic, I suppose, but this brings to mind my favorite example of direct quotation in a story, in "The Young Immigrunts" by Ring Lardner:

Shut up, he explained.

(If memory serves, there are no quotation marks in the story)
9.25.2006 6:48pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Indeed; my question is asking what "works" -- what communicates effectively with no distraction, rather than being odd, stilted, or inadvertently jocular, or interfering with great poets' pipe dreams.
9.25.2006 6:48pm
Though your explanation of why it shouldn't be right makes sense, it sounds idiomatically correct--maybe because it sounds so much like "I didn't do it," he replied.
9.25.2006 6:49pm
Paul Sherman:
This topic reminds me of the book title Hello, He Lied -- and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches by Lynda Obst.
9.25.2006 6:57pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I agree that there's no necessary correspondence between the rightness of "'I didn't do it,' he lied" and "He lied the answer." The latter can be stilted while the former isn't. In fact, I think the former is stylstically wonderful, which is reason enough to use it (sparingly).

But, for what it's worth, "He lied the answer" was all the rage in the 14th and 15th centuries. For instance, says the OED, in Piers Plowman (c. 1377), Passus 18, line 403 (or 415 in another version): "And for thy lying, Lucifer, that thou lied to Eve." From Reginald Pecock's Represser of over-much weeting of the Clergie (c. 1449), 2.3.150: "Many lyings have I heard him lie." And from William Copland's Wyl Bucke's Testament (c. 1500): "My tongue that never lied a lying." And more: "Thou lies all that thou says" (c. 1375), "How should I enjoin the penance of things which I truly think thou liest" (c. 1450).
9.25.2006 7:00pm
Doug Sundseth (mail):
I don't have a grammatical problem with the quoted statement. And it's clearly shorter than, "... he said, lying." Depending on context, it's perhaps too conclusory, and it does tend toward the world of "said-wordisms".

The latter is a crutch of novice writers and bad English teachers, wherein the writer uses some "evocative" term rather than the simple "said":

"'Get out from under the car', she growled."

"'Give me the gun', he lisped."

I would hesitate to use either "lisped" or "growled" transitively, but both seem grammatical, if clumsy, when used in this way. I think the same is true with "lied".
9.25.2006 7:03pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
As if by coincidence, I was just reading Jerry Mashaw's article Small Things Like Reasons Are Put in a Jar: Reason and Legitimacy in the Administrative State, 70 Fordham L. Rev. 17 (2001), where he attributes "Shut up, he explained" to a cartoon that he thought was from The New Yorker, perhaps by Ogden Nash. He didn't cite anything, no doubt because he had no idea where it was from.

I don't have access to the Ring Lardner story, but I've seen the phrase cited from there around the Internet, which never lies, and that story is from 1920. Therefore, it's not original with The New Yorker, which has only been around since 1925. I wonder if Lardner made it up?
9.25.2006 7:04pm
Guest J:
We wouldn't say "He replied his answer," but we would say "He replied with his answer."

Similarly, "He lied in his answer".

I think the lied / replied analogy is nearly perfect, but requires a different preposition.
9.25.2006 7:12pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Some of the abstract "X" and "Y" stuff with variations on examples are jumbling me up. But, here is my answer to what I think you are asking:

I think this sounds fine:

"'I didn't do it,' he lied"?

I thin this sounds odd:
"He lied 'I didn't do it'".

I don't have any idea why one sounds odd to me and the other sounds fine. Both sentences would sound fine if the word "lied" were replaced with "said".

Since the examples of "lisped" and "growl" came up, both sentences would sound find if the word "lied" were replaced by "lisped" or "growl."
9.25.2006 7:17pm
Steve Waldman (mail) (www):
"'I didn't do it', he lied" doesn't sound great to me, but I think it's not the grammar but a kind of redundancy, or too much commenting on too short a thing. It's quite common for for the verb emitting a quotation to comment on a quotation, and the effectiveness of the commenting trumps any concern about the transitivity or intransitivity of the verb. You could substitute "demurred", for an example very much like lied. Or you can bet more figurative: "Look at the size of that thing!", he quaked. "There's no shelter for miles," he shivered.
9.25.2006 7:51pm
Seems to me that intransitive verbs are often used with quotations:

"B-llsh-t!" she coughed.

"Stop bugging me," he complained.

The AHD entry for the word "giggle" (unlike for "cough" or "complain") includes a transitive form meaning "To utter while giggling."

I suspect that many intransitive verbs have a transitive form along those lines -- either "to utter while Xing" or "to make a statement that constitutes Xing."

The cluse
9.25.2006 8:10pm
I don't know that this adds anything to Guest J's comments, but I think that your example of "X lied Y" meaning "X said Y with the intention of deceiving" is telling. It seems to me that "lied" used in this context is being asked to stand for the phrase (clause?) "said with the intention of deceiving," so one would parse "X lied Y" as "X said with the intention of deceiving Y." This usage is idiomatically incorrect, although I'm not certain I can explain why (it just sounds wrong).
9.25.2006 8:29pm
Peter Wimsey:
I suspect that many intransitive verbs have a transitive form along those lines -- either "to utter while Xing" or "to make a statement that constitutes Xing."

I agree with the first part of statement, and can think of lots of examples. "He coughed an answer." "She giggled her refusal." "That bugs the hell out of me."

Since a transitive verb is a verb that takes an object, and a statement isn't an object, I'm not sure that I would agree with your second point. Or I may be misunderstanding it. But there is a clear difference between "Her response was to spit 'Bullshit!'". and "Her response was to spit bullshit."
9.25.2006 8:33pm
Waldensian (mail):
Of course, Dr. Seuss anticipated -- and to my mind, emphatically staked out his position on -- this critical grammar issue in his monumental "What Was I Scared Of?", otherwise known as the tale of the pale green pants:

I said, 'I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.'
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.
9.25.2006 8:56pm
John McCall (mail):
As a sort of dual to AF's comment, the transitive sense of "lie" that Eugene Volokh cites is just an instance of a general idiom and is not at all specific to this verb. To invent some examples:
"You've really eaten yourself into a pickle."
"Charlie's just golfed himself out of a job."
"This point has exampled itself to death."
The idiom is particularly well-suited to verbed nouns.
9.25.2006 9:06pm
randal (mail):
I think there's something about quotations that makes them not noun phrases as such. That is, I don't think a quotation plays the role of an object for an intransitive verb, at least not in the normal way.

I haven't investigated this subject extensively, but I don't see much of a reason to assume that in "X verb Y", it should be equally good for Y to be a noun phrase as a quotation.

He ate his pie.
He ate his words.
He ate "I'll never leave you".
9.25.2006 10:18pm
randal (mail):
9.25.2006 10:19pm
kenB (mail):
FWIW, in my idiolect, using "lied" in that way is marked -- it's outside of normal, neutral speech, could be playful or could be biting depending on context.
9.25.2006 11:08pm
It's beginning to sound like teenage boys

"'I laid' he lied."
9.26.2006 1:41am
A number of references in Google quote and specify the Lardner usage of "shut up, he explained."

I had always thought it was parody.
9.26.2006 6:51am
Silicon Valley Jim:
I don't have access to the Ring Lardner story, but I've seen the phrase cited from there around the Internet, which never lies, and that story is from 1920. Therefore, it's not original with The New Yorker, which has only been around since 1925. I wonder if Lardner made it up?

Lardner almost certainly made it up. His ear for speech was unexcelled, as was his deadpan humor; "shut up he explained" exemplifies both. I highly recommend "The Young Immigrunts" to anybody who wants a good laugh. In fact, I can recommend just about all Lardner's fiction. He was an absolute master.
9.26.2006 1:26pm
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
These phrases ("he said", "he lied", etc.) are known in linguistics (or at least in literary stylistics) as inquits, and some writers make a habit of coming up with unusual ones. The best known is probably Frédéric Dard, a.k.a. San Antonio, who never offered a "dit-il" when he could get away with a "haussa-t-il les épaules". This sort of thing, I think, works a little better in French, as in the one that came to me when I started thinking about "he lied":

"Je mens," épiménidisa-t-il.
9.26.2006 4:54pm
markm (mail):
I agree with Molechaser: it just sounds wrong. I wouldn't use it unless my intention was to jar the reader, as in humorous writing.

Beyond that, compare "I didn't do it", he cried. to "I didn't do it", he lied. "Cried" is an observable part of the utterance. "Lied" is a conclusion, unsupported by cited evidence. In serious writing, it could look like an attempt to slip by the conclusion in disguise as evidence.
9.27.2006 3:40pm
lucia (mail) (www):
In fiction, " 'I didn't do it', he lied.' it would just read like a compact way to convey information that might advance the plot.
9.27.2006 7:22pm