To narrow-minded and naive grammarians, truth is truth and honest truth is redundancy that ought not to be tolerated in educated circles. But I ask that you lend me your ear while I try to show you there can be a great difference in the two.
If you leave a little bit out of the truth and what you do say is truth, you cannot be held accountable for lying in the political arena. If you can pick the truth apart and select that part that serves your intent to deceive, you have not lied but you may have created a great deception. Even a simple fellow like me can understand that.
Honest truth involves intent, and to tell the honest truth, you must not omit that part of the truth that serves your intent poorly. I would hope that I have made myself perfectly clear, but perfect is another one of those words grammarians like to argue about.
A perfect union is as good as it can get for a pure grammarian but our founders sought to establish a more perfect union. One of my better educated friends often starts a sentence with “You know perfectly well …,” but I hardly ever do. If I just have a strong suspicion, that is as about as good as it gets for me. My reference to pure grammarians is purely figurative — my use of pure is reckless indeed, but it is the best I can do on short notice.
Now getting back to the last level of truth, we come to God’s honest truth, and we still run into a few arguments from virtuous people. Each religion has its own notion of God’s truth, and it seems to come down to a matter of faith. Swearing an oath used to mean very little unless it was sworn on the Holy Bible or at least with your hand on the Bible.
For people who get a little touchy about swearing, we permit affirming as a substitute. Depending on the circumstance, swearing an oath can be a highly sacred thing or it can be just plain old cussing.
In a court of law you may be forced to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth unless you have a religious aversion to this sort of thing. If you do have an aversion, I think maybe you can get by on a firm promise, but you are still subject to penalty if you tell a lie and get caught (with certain notable exception for high-ups in government).
With naive children, having your fingers crossed excuses you from lying, but with adults the ante goes up and you need a bundle of cash or a lot of influence to get excused.
An old fellow named Joshua of long ago in Todd County was being tried for the illegal manufacture of fermented products. He was duly sworn in and he was trying hard to tell the truth. When asked him to state his name, he did so in a firm voice but he did point out that he was not the Joshua who made the sun stand still, he was merely the fellow who made the moon shine.
Legend has it that he was released by the jury without penalty; which might go to show that it is best to tell the truth in all circumstances.
TOBY HIGHTOWER is a retired educator and formerHopkinsville High School teacher. His email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to him at 222 S. 25th St.,Apartment 434, Terre Haute, IN. 47803.