Does someone tell a baldfaced lie, a barefaced lie, or a boldfaced lie?
A “Barefaced lie” is an obvious lie told without shame. “Barefaced lie” is the most common form in British English, and it’s spelled “bare”—B-A-R-E—as in uncovered, conveying the sense of a lie told audaciously without concealment or shame.
“Barefaced” to mean unconcealed or undisguised goes all the way back to Shakespeare, who used it in the early 1600s in “Macbeth”:
- Though I could with barefaced power sweep him from my sight.
“Barefaced lie” is the oldest form of these phrases to describe an open lie. That use originated in the late 1700s, and here’s an example from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin," published in 1852:
- Miss Ophelia was so indignant at the barefaced lie, that she caught the child and shook her.
“Barefaced” doesn’t take a hyphen. It’s all one word.
A “baldfaced lie” means essentially the same thing. It is the most common phrase in American English where it first appeared in the late 1800s. Here’s an example:
- I can’t believe Squiggly would tell such a baldfaced lie. He clearly stole the chocolate; he still has smudges of it on his fingers!
“Baldfaced” can appear with or without a hyphen. For example, it’s the phrase recommended by the AP Stylebook, which lists it without a hyphen. It is also the form most strongly recommended for American writers by Garner’s Modern English Usage, and that book spells it with a hyphen.
“Boldfaced lie” is another option. Some people consider it to be an error, but it’s almost as old as “barefaced lie.” Still, it’s used less often than “bald-faced lie” and “barefaced lie,” and it’s probably best to avoid it.
An absolute error is “bearfaced lie” spelled B-E-A-R like a grizzly bear. That's just a misspelling. Bears have nothing to do with lying.
That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: If you’re in America, people tell baldfaced lies; and if you’re in Britain, people tell barefaced lies.
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Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”