More Pinocchios?

中国日报网 2014-05-13 16:48



More Pinocchios?

Reader question:

Please explain this headline: More Pinocchios for the President on Equal Pay.

My comments:

In other words, the President – Barack Obama, that is – told more lies on the subject of equal pay for men and women.

Without needing further context, we know that because Pinocchio is all about lying.

Pinocchio, you see, is the hero of Italian writer Carlo Collodi’s story for children, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883). Pinocchio is a puppet who comes to life in the story as a boy and whose nose grows longer whenever he tells a lie.

My generation, who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, all seemed to be familiar with Pinocchio. Few read the book in full but we all seemed to know the story of the nose of Pinocchio. How come?

It has to do with the fact, I think, we thought lying to be a serious crime for youngsters. For anyone, for that matter. At least it appeared to be that way in those days.

The upcoming generations, on the other hand, don’t seem to know or care about the boy. Perhaps it’s because people no longer take lying as seriously an offense as before. Lying in the public arena certainly has increased over time. To the olden eye, public office holders and other celebrities in particular seem to be lying through their teeth all the time.

The media are doing a better job of exposing liars these days, of course. Still, the impression is unmistakable – that lying is much more prevalent today than in those days long gone by.

I’m not asking youngsters not to lie, though. Times are changed. Honesty has for millenniums been considered a good policy but I’m not sure it remains so today.

Today, it seems people who lie and lie and lie even more will go far in society, not the other way around. Again, it’s just an impression but I won’t tell kids not to lie lest I hinder their career and climbing up the social ladder.

Lying is not my cup of tea but still I’d be lying if I don’t admit that people who lie a lot are getting away with it much more than before. In fact, they all seem to be doing better than everyone else.

Just ask any successful people around you and they’ll tell you this is true. I’m sure they’ll all agree with me. If they don’t, just sit back and watch – to see their proverbial noses grow longer and longer.

Anyways, Pinocchio stands for lying. Hence, if people call someone a Pinocchio, they believe this person is very prone to telling a lie. If they say somebody does a Pinocchio, or that their nose does a Pinocchio, they mean the same thing.

Alright, here are media examples:

1. Charles Ross’s touring stage show, “The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy,” is as audacious as the title suggests.

Inspiration for the show began a long time ago, in a living room far, far away. Ross, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, frittered away his childhood by watching a videotape of “Star Wars” more than 400 times.

“By the time I was 11 or 12, I had watched it that many times,” he says, “but I’ve definitely tried to make something positive out of it.”

The repeat viewings (current tally: 474) paid off. Ross, a professional actor who had spent years working with theater groups across Canada, knew how to mimic all the voices in “Star Wars" — as well as the fluorescent hum of a lightsaber — when he set about adapting the trilogy for stage. Ross and director T.J. Dawe then devised ways to physically represent each character so that the audience knows who they’re watching at any moment. At times, Ross seems to fully embody the roles he's playing; at other times, he relies on a simple gesture as a shorthand. Leia’s infamous bun hairstyle, for example, is represented by hands cupped around the ears. The actor isn’t afraid to editorialize, either — Obi Wan’s nose does a Pinocchio every time he talks about how Luke’s father died.

- Original Star Wars trilogy packed into one-man show,, June 1, 2005.

2. SO, you think you can pick a liar?

Covert operations specialist David Craig can.

The 48-year-old former Mackay man, who’s been working in his field for 21 years, says there are more Pinocchios among us than we think.

“I think (people lie) about once in every 10 minutes of conversation,” Mr Craig said.

The reasons people lied was to avoid embarrassment, make a positive impression and to avoid punishment, Mr Craig said.

“Lying is quite regular and acceptable, it’s just we (think) that lying is a terrible thing,” he said.

“There’s polite and good reasons for people to be telling a lie. It’s not always a sinister thing.”

His book, Lie Catcher, teaches people how to detect a liar through a ‘magic’ lie detection model.

“Magic is the acronym: M is for motivation, you need to find out has this person got the motivation to lie to me,” he said.

“The next one is A, to ask for control questions; and they’re questions that either I know the answers to or that you wouldn’t lie about.

“I’m mentally cataloguing what you’re doing with your body, eyes and speech.

“Then I’ll ask G, which is the guilt questions.

“For I, I’m looking for indicators... I look for any change... I might see a couple of quick flicks of the eye or looking away and that any change (when answering the guilt questions).

“C is to check again, so you’ve got to run through that process again to make sure you got it right.

“It’s actually harder to tell if someone close to you is lying... over confidence can work against you... and you want to believe people that you like.”

The father of four said he didn’t always have his “lie radar” on but turned it on when it was necessary.

“You only turn it on when you have to, because it’s actually quite exhausting.”

- What’s it take to spot a liar?, February 27, 2012.

3. For readers curious about what makes a statement worth One Pinocchio, versus Four, watch the tutorial above that appeared this week on The Fold from The Washington Post.

Indeed, the hardest part of our job is deciding how many Pinocchio’s a claim gets — and then dealing with the torrent of email from readers who think we are being either too hard or too soft on the subject. It is admittedly subjective, though we do provide a guide to our rating scale.

Over time, we have developed a bit of a matrix to help us sort through the relative scale of a misstatement. For instance:

1. Is this from prepared remarks or just an off the cuff remark? Misstatements in prepared remarks tend to get worse grades.

2. How central is this “fact” to the point the politician was trying to make? If a politician keys his or her speech off this errant fact, he or she is going to get graded more harshly.

3. Did the politician use weasel words to try to disguise the sleight of hand he or she were performing? If we catch the magician’s tricks, there are more Pinocchios.

4. Did the suspect data come from a reputable, neutral source or from a partisan think tank? The politician loses points if they rely on dubious sources.

We tend to give some credit to people who admit they made a mistake, or at least can provide an explanation for their error. We are always willing to listen. There are some politicians with excellent staffs who quickly respond with the facts and tend not to try to spin us. Some politicians have even called us directly to make their case.

In some cases, we have been convinced to reduce the number of Pinocchios or even drop the matter. Even if we don’t change our assessment, a cooperative response certainly helps build credibility for the next time we come calling.

- The science of Pinocchios,, November 6, 2012.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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