60 White Lies We Tell Every Day
"No, officer, I don't know how fast I was going!"
Is honesty really always the best policy? Turns out, even if you say it is, you probably don't think so. In fact, little white lies are so common that researchers claim most people lie up to three times every ten minutes. Generally, those white lies are told to three specific groups of people—strangers, coworkers, or loved ones—but, regardless of who you're lying to, one thing's for sure: we all tend to fib a little more than we're willing to admit.
And while this may all seem fairly innocuous, those white lies can add up—and also make you more prone to fire off larger lies down the line. One study published in Nature Neuroscience revealed that when, minor untruths go without consequence, our brains are more likely to believe that major untruths will go over just as well. Needless to say, they often don't.
So, to help you pay a bit more attention to what you say—and to avoid any potentially awkward "gotcha!" situations as a result—we've rounded up the most common white lies of everyday language. See how many of these junior whoppers you've let loose, whether it's toward strangers, toward coworkers, or even to your closest friends and family members you care about the most.
"My phone died."
This is a white lie you can usually get away with, if only because we've all experienced a phone call cutting out, either because of lost signal or poor battery life. In many ways, it's the perfect alibi, and nobody's feelings get hurt. Just try not to overuse it. There are only so many times that a phone conversation can get suddenly cut short before your loved one starts to suspect that you're just using it as a convenient exit strategy.
"Of course I remember you!"
It can be embarrassing when we realize the person we're talking to, who seems like a complete stranger, is someone we've supposedly met at least once in the past. But don't beat yourself up over this lie. After all, it may not be a total lie—our memories often rely on context when it comes to placing a face.
Or at least that's the finding of a a study published in Nature Communications, which demonstrated "how error prone this process [of remembering peoples' faces outside of context] can be," said psychologist Manos Tsakiris in an interview. So if you see a business contact whom you'd met twice in a conference room in a tiki bar and your brain is totally flummoxed, don't sweat it too much!
"That was my idea."
Drop this one from your office lexicon, says April Masini, a relationship expert. "When you take credit for an idea that isn't yours, you're giving people the impression that you're someone you're not."
The truth will eventually come out—trust us on this, it always does—and your credibility will take a hit that will be difficult to recover from. Be humble, give credit where credit is due, and work harder on coming up with your own great ideas.
"Oh, yeah, that makes sense."
This is usually office shorthand for: "I'm not really listening, but I need to say something so it makes it seem like I just heard everything you said and I'm carefully considering it." It's a white lie that everyone can see coming from a mile away. It's okay if you zoned out for a second and you lost track of the conversation. Asking a coworker to repeat themselves means that you actually care about what they're telling you.
"I'm five minutes away."
What is it about "five minutes" that sounds like the perfect geographic lie? We're not just down the block, but we're not far enough away that the person being told this lie should get upset. There's one thing we all know is true, however: If we get a call by somebody who's late and they claim to be "five minutes away," we all intrinsically know this isn't true. Repeat this white lie if you must, but don't think for a second (or for five minutes) that you're being believed—especially by those who know you all too well.
"Traffic was horrible."
It's embarrassing to be late to the office. And blaming it on rush-hour traffic is an easy lie to sell. Who hasn't known the misery of sitting in your car on the highway and nobody is moving? This white lie is so easy to believe, it's the most popular excuse for showing up late. According to the latest CareerBuilder survey, 51 percent of workers have used this line at least once.
"I can have it done by tomorrow."
"Stop yourself before you say it," advises Masini. "If you can't have it done tomorrow, don't create the pressure and anxiety for yourself by telling this lie." Employees often repeat this lie to their coworkers because they're eager to please, but it sets up false expectations for what you're actually able to deliver. Better to give them a realistic timetable than disappoint with promises that aren't met.
"Your new haircut looks amazing."
The best white lies are the ones that have a positive impact on the rest of a person's day. Telling a loved one their haircut is flattering and attractive, even if it's nothing of the kind, can do exactly that. According to one poll, feelings of low self-esteem about hair can send a person spiraling into depression. But if someone tells them their hair looks great, 56 percent will pay it forward, and be nicer and more pleasant to other people, while 67 percent will just generally have a better day overall. Who knew a haircut had so much power?
"I don't do this job for the money."
It's hard to tell what this white lie even means. Is this just a tactic to complain about your salary without actually saying as much? Or are you trying to prove that you care more than your coworkers? Whatever the rationale, it's only going to leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth. Whether you're bragging about your tireless devotion to the job or not-so-subtly asking for a raise, nobody needs to hear it.
"I totally forgot to do that thing you asked me to do."
To be fair, sometimes it really is easy to forget. But that's not always the case. Sometimes you didn't do the thing your loved one asked you to do because you just didn't feel like it. Thing is, saying such out loud can sound mean. "Sorry, but you're not a priority." This is definitely a white lie we can endorse—just use it sparingly. You can only "forget" your to-do lists so many times before your loved one will want to make an appointment for you with a neurologist.
"This is my top priority."
Some white lies exist for no other reason than to make somebody feel better. Telling a supervisor that a project is your "top priority" is kind of useless, other than making them feel momentarily reassured that the job is in good hands. But honestly, were you going to approach it with any less urgency if you didn't label it a "top priority"? Of course not. It's no different than telling your supervisor, "I've set this job at threat level orange!"
"I'm never on social media."
This little white lie tends to get mentioned during job interviews, or if you're trying to look superior to coworkers who spend too much time on Twitter or Facebook. But unless there's at least some truth to it—if you average one tweet every six months, for instance—it's not a fabrication you'll get away with for long.
"This is the best gift you've ever given me!"
This is a weird white lie, if only because it's entirely unnecessary. Do we really think a loved one will get upset if we just say, "Hey, thanks for the gift!" or something else as simple and easy as that? Why is it necessary to be over the top with a reaction, doing cartwheels about how much we loooove the gift?
"Most of us possess an innate desire to be liked," says Dr. Jill Gross, a licensed psychologist. "What's more, people are most attracted to individuals who make them feel good." If your gift was handed to you by somebody you fancy and would like to know better, then sure, exaggerate your enthusiasm. But if it's a loved one you've known for years—or decades, even—you might want to calm it down. They don't need convincing to like you anymore.
"I can't come in today, I'm sick."
We can't really point any fingers on this one. According to a CareerBuilder poll, 40 percent of workers had called in sick at least once every year even when they were perfectly healthy. And those are just the people admitting to doing it. So don't beat yourself up about this white lie—but maybe don't make it a habit.
"It was nice to meet you."
So much is left unsaid in a white lie like this. As we all know, on far too many occasions, the line, "Nice to meet you," is actually shorthand for, "This will be the last time we're in the same room together if I can help it."
"I don't really care about politics."
It's a white line all coworkers should be able to agree on. Even if you have political opinions that you're passionate about, the office is not the right setting for such debate. Plead ignorance—or at least indifference—to whatever is happening in Washington right now. "Did President Trump tweet something today? I hadn't noticed." Stick to this line and you'll have a longer future at your company.
"Have you lost weight?"
In general, it's just a good idea to never comment on a coworker's appearance, even if you're trying to be complimentary. "It's a hot button topic," says Masini. According to one NPR poll, 49 percent of respondents found it inappropriate for men to comment on a woman's appearance at work, and 46 percent think a woman shouldn't comment on a man's appearance. Granted, that means a little over half of office workers think it's no big deal, but is that really a game of Russian Roulette you want to play?
"My favorite novel? It's a tossup between Moby-Dick and Infinite Jest."
Maybe you're not lying. But if we're going by book sales, it's a far likelier possibility that your favorite reads are really a tossup between The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey. No stranger is buying this white lie.
"I thought I already sent that email out. I'm sure I did."
It's the, "Oh, the check is in the mail" of office white lies. But it often fools your coworkers anyway, because it's so believable, says Masini. "So many of us actually do forget to send emails," she says. If used in moderation, this white lie is fine, and might even buy you some extra time.
"I'll call you later."
It's a white lie that's at least attempting to be considerate. Better to tell a stranger you've just met, "I'll call you," than to admit, "Yeah, you'll probably never hear from me again." Well, maybe. You might think you're sparing their feelings, but a 2014 poll conducted by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair found that 22 percent of people thought "I'll call you" was the least justifiable lie somebody could tell, far more egregious than "You've lost weight," or "the check is in the mail."
"What an adorable baby!"
There is no other response to being introduced to a proud stranger's newborn. Remember that classic episode of Seinfeld, when the gang visit a house in the Hamptons and were introduced to what Jerry describes as "the ugliest baby you have ever seen?" Jerry and Elaine were both so repulsed by the child that they could barely look at it for even a few seconds. But they called it adorable and beautiful anyway. As Jerry explained later, "It's a must-lie situation." That's no joke!
"I am __ years old."
It's a white lie that strangers will pretty readily believe (unless you're clearly decades older than you're claiming). And lying about your age may actually be good for you. A British study found that people who insist that they're younger than their "technical" age actually live longer. So go ahead, repeat that white lie even if nobody's buying it. It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy!
"I'd love to hear about your fantasy football teams."
There are two types of people in this world: those who are absolutely fascinated by fantasy football, and those who truly couldn't care less. If you fall into the latter category, it's perfectly acceptable to smile politely and listen to a coworker prattle on and on about their fantasy teams. Just don't feign too much interest or you'll become their go-to office buddy for fantasy football chats. You want to appear tolerant of their fandom, but not hanging-on-their-every-word engrossed.
"I'm allergic to _____."
It just seems easier to tell a restaurant server you've never met that you have an allergy to mushrooms rather than admit that the creamy mushroom soup-of-the-day sounds really terrible. But as it turns out, servers really wish we'd be more truthful. "If you have a serious dislike of some particular food, that's fine—tell us, and we'll recommend something that doesn't contain that ingredient, or we may even be able to alter a menu item for you," one server said in an interview. "But if you lie and say it's an allergy, it's a huge deal for the kitchen."
"The traffic was so bad."
It's the excuse everybody gives when the truth is more along the lines of, "I didn't feel like coming here, so I waited until the last possible second, and I'm exactly as late as I thought I'd be, but I don't want to admit that to strangers, because it's insulting." Long story short, there was no unusual traffic.
"I weigh ____ pounds."
Unless it's a doctor, we're unlikely to share the absolute truth with strangers about how much we really weigh. If the weight listed on your driver's license is actually accurate, you're in the minority. According to Matt Prieto, who works at the Department of Motor Vehicles, people rarely give accurate information about their weight, "but not in a nefarious way. The weight will be 299 rather than something starting with a 3." He says he's occasionally seen underreported poundage that makes him roll his eyes, "but I've only seen a couple that made me say, 'You need to change this to something more realistic.'"
"You have such a lovely home!"
It's the thing you say to someone you've just met when you've run out of meaningful things to tell them. It's in the same category as saying, "I like your shoes," or "Where'd you get that watch?" It's not just about being polite. It's a survival instinct. It's caused when you feel the panic of being out conversation and in your head, you're thinking, "I'm out of ideas! I'm just going to start randomly complimenting things until I can get out of here!"
"I wish I could be at that meeting, but I've got a [doctor's appointment/kid's recital/funeral]."
We feel your pain. Most meetings really could just be an email, but you don't want to be the jerk who points it out. So this white lie is probably a victimless crime. Just make sure it's not something that could come back to haunt you. If a coworker thinks you attended a grandmother's funeral last week but then bumps into you having dinner with her at a restaurant, you're going to have some explaining to do.
"No, officer, I have no idea how fast I was going."
It's right there on the speedometer, buddy, which is conveniently located right in front of your face, behind the steering wheel. It's not like saying, "I don't know how much I weigh." We don't walk around with a scale attached to our feet. But we don't drive anywhere without being constantly reminded of how fast we're going. Let's hope that cop—someone, we'll remind you, you've never met—is understanding.
"Oh, yeah, I've seen [popular TV show]. It's my favorite!"
If you've ever pretended to be a fan of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad in front of a group of strangers because you don't want to be left out of the conversation, you're far from alone. In a Hulu survey of people between the ages of 18 and 49, a shocking 46 percent confessed to lying about watching certain TV shows just because they wanted to fit in. The numbers got higher when broken down by gender: 62 percent of men would gladly pretend they'd seen the latest episodes of Stranger Things just so they wouldn't feel excluded.
"I'm proficient in Microsoft Excel."
How many people have used a white lie like this on their résumé despite having no idea what Microsoft Excel even is? More than you might suspect. A 2017 poll found that nearly half (46 percent) of workers have lied on their résumés. And they're not necessarily fooling anybody. Fifty-three percent of managers were well aware that applicants were being less than truthful about their abilities. Imagine how easily they could spot your lies when they actually meet you?
"Let's keep in touch."
If you really mean it, you'll pass over a card, or get someone's number on the spot and immediately text over, "Hey, it's Bob!" But if no meaningful contact information has actually passed from one person to the other, the phrase, "Let's keep in touch," is basically a nice way of saying, "If we happen to run into each other by accident at a social gathering, I won't pretend I don't know you."
"Do you mind if I take the aisle seat? I'm claustrophobic."
This white lie is how many passengers have talked their way into getting a different seat on a flight. We suppose it's better to claim a fake medical condition than admit the unpopular truth, that they want unencumbered access to the restroom and to be one of the first people off the plane when it lands. Yeah, as white lies go, this is definitely better than the alternative. Nobody wants to switch seats with a stranger who says, "I just want more convenience than you."
"It was almost done, and then my computer just died on me!"
"This lie is a version of my dog ate my homework," says Masini. "If you didn't finish something, just say, 'I'm sorry, I didn't get it done.'" Claiming you missed a deadline because of a technical glitch is also easy to disprove. It's only a matter of time before the IT guy shows up to check out this mysteriously crashing computer, and you're revealed as the employee who cried wolf.
"He's just tired."
Any parent will recognize this white lie as the excuse we give to strangers when our child is crying or screaming or generally behaving like a tiny psycho. But if we were honest, we'd admit what we know in our hearts to be true. Sometimes there isn't an easy excuse for a toddler's behavior. It has nothing to do with being sleepy or hungry or anything else. They're just acting up.
"I change the oil every 5,000 miles."
For all our paranoia about how auto mechanics deceive us, inventing repairs that are entirely fictional and whatnot, we do our fair share of lying to them. Do you remember to bring in your car for an oil change on the exact date specified on that little sticker on your windshield? Probably not, right? How about getting your brake pads checked when you notice a high-pitched noise?
"That just started happening," you tell the mechanic. The white lie is easier than saying, "Listen, I forgot, okay? Just fix it and I'll promise to bring in the car earlier next time, which I'm probably not going to do."
"No, this isn't a new [expensive purse, pair of shoes, outfit]. I've had it forever."
If your family's on a budget, getting caught splurging on yourself can be embarrassing. A white lie like this, as long as it's about a purchase that doesn't put you or your loved ones in financial jeopardy, is mostly innocent. It can also be pretty easy to get away with, as long as your partner doesn't stumble upon some receipts that prove you're being less than truthful. Sometimes when you're caught in the act, the best thing to do is admit your mistake and move on.
"I've only had a couple of drinks."
Maybe you did only have two drinks. Maybe "a couple" of drinks actually means four, or five. Who are we to judge? Your bartender, on the other hand…
"I love it!"
Whether directed at a supervisor or a coworker, this white lie can be a slippery slope. A little optimism is a good thing, especially if your job involves motivating others to do their best. But you don't have to love everything, especially if you're just "meh" about their idea. In other words, saying something a little less over-the-top and wildly effusive—like, say, "That sounds promising, but let's see what you do with it"—will do your coworkers more good in the long run.
"I'm from Canada."
Sometimes you're on vacation in Europe, and it's just not worth it, to tell the truth. It's easier to say "I'm from Canada," and be done with it. It's not about your personal politics—it's wanting to explore the world without needing to defend the government of the place where you were born. Some white lies aren't about protecting other stranger's feelings. They're just about "will you please leave me alone so I can be a tourist?"
In most cases, this is perfectly acceptable. Even if you're not fine, we're not always obligated to delve into a deep discussion of life's complication and worries just because somebody asked, "Everything okay?" But if you really are hiding something that your loved one needs to know, there will eventually come a time when you need to have that difficult discussion.
"You look skinny in that dress/suit/shirt."
Even if it is a lie—hey, you don't always have to think everybody looks great in everything they wear—telling it anyway might be helping a loved one look at their bodies more realistically. A 2010 University College London study found that our brains are actually "massively distorted" when it comes to body image.
As Dr. Michael Longo, the neuroscientist who led the research, once told a reporter, "There may be a general bias towards perceiving the body to be wider than it is." In some cases, most people see their bodies as two-thirds wider and a third shorter than what the rest of the world sees.
This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but you're not fooling anyone. The person on the receiving end of this white lie "probably already knows that you're not listening," says Masini. A better idea would be to admit to your loved one that, hey, maybe your attention lapsed, if only for a minute. "Say, 'Could you repeat that?' Or, 'I want to make sure I got that, say it again, please,'" Masini advises.
"I'm busy that day."
There's no harm in a white lie like this, but it requires follow-through. If you turn down a social invitation by claiming you'll be "busy," you need to keep a low profile to make sure you don't inadvertently expose yourself. The last thing you need is to be seen having fun out in the world at the exact moment you insisted that you'd be stuck at the office into the night.
"I need it by yesterday."
"If you're slinging this lie to pull rank and feel important, check yourself," says Masini. It's a white lie that's glaringly passive-aggressive. Whatever you expected your coworker or employee to finish clearly wasn't due yesterday—you're just trying to motivate them to stay on schedule. Masini recommends using a little more tact. Try a softer approach, like, "I'm worried about this being late. How soon can you get it to me?"
"The kids and I didn't just watch TV the whole time you were gone."
The reason some white lies fall apart is because of their specificity. If your partner returns from a trip and asks what you and the kids did over the weekend, and you respond, "Well, we didn't eat so many chicken nuggets that we all got tummy aches, I'll tell you that much," it's a pretty good bet that what you're insisting didn't happen is exactly what happened.
"That was my last piece of gum."
Sometimes white lies aren't just to protect other people's feelings. Sometimes they exist to protect us from weird social expectations—like the social expectation that you have to share your gum. If you pull out a package of gum, anybody around you is well within their rights to ask, "You have gum! Can I have a piece?" It's one of the only things in life we're expected to share without question.
This makes no sense. You don't take out your car keys only to fairly expect someone to say, "Oh, great, you have a car! Can I borrow it for a few hours?" But take out gum and suddenly everybody wants a piece for themselves. So go ahead and tell the white lie that you've just popped the last piece into your mouth. Your secret is safe with us.
"My kid is sick."
What could go wrong with a harmless white lie like this? You get to skip out of work for a day or two and nobody is the wiser. Well, think again. According to recent polls, one-third of employers check up on their employees on social media. If you're not really home with a sick kid and are, in fact, out enjoying a beautiful spring day, and then you're foolish enough to post about it on Facebook, you're not going to like the consequences.
"I've had ____ sex partners."
Unless this is part of a more serious discussion about sexual health—you should never lie to a partner about your sexual past, especially if you might be putting their health in jeopardy—it's otherwise fine to exaggerate or downsize the number of participants in your sexual past. Hey, it's not like you're giving them phone numbers.
"I wasn't checking him/her out."
This is a white lie that can only make things worse, especially if it's pretty obvious you've been caught in a fib. And not because it's a clumsy attempt to deny our own behavior, but because it suggests we have something more to hide. If our gaze was briefly distracted by an attractive stranger, hey, it happens. It demonstrates that we still have a heartbeat. It's also harmless. But protesting a bit too vehemently that we didn't do something that we clearly did suggests that this sort of eyes-wandering isn't a one-time occurrence.
"Your cooking is delicious."
It's not a white lie you'll want to repeat often, especially if you're saying it to someone—say, a partner or a parent—who could be cooking for you regularly. But as an occasional thing—as an act of encouragement towards somebody who's experimenting in the kitchen and seeing what they can do—telling them the cooking is delicious even if that couldn't be further from the truth isn't such a bad idea. Studies have shown that cooking and baking helps people feel more relaxed and happier in their lives. Even if they didn't serve you a meal that made your taste buds sing, you've encouraged them to keep trying, and in a small way made their day a little better.
"I would love to hang out after work sometime."
It might work the first time you say it or even the second time. But eventually, your coworker is going to figure out that you have no intention of spending time with them outside the office. "It really just stirs their hope," says Masini. "You don't have to try to make someone feel good. You just have to be polite."
"Don't worry, it's okay."
This is a tricky one. Sometimes it's a white lie that a person needs to hear, if only because the truth will be too crushing. We all make mistakes, and some of us make many mistakes, so having a loved one who tells us "it's okay" even when it's very clearly not okay can be a gift. But don't repeat this white lie too often.
Yes, letting somebody off the hook once in a while, even when everything in your head wants to scream at them for messing up so spectacularly, is a good instinct. But every now and then, mistakes shouldn't be so quickly forgiven. It depends on the severity. You'll know when it happens. Did they spill wine on your rug? Feel free to tell them, "Don't worry, it's okay." Did they crashed their car into your yard? You're under no obligation to play it cool.
"That was funny."
It's not just about making a coworker feel better about telling a really terrible joke. In some cases, not encouraging their sense of humor can be the kindest thing you can do for them—for instance, "if a person might get fired for telling such a joke," says Marlene Chism, a consultant and author of Stop Workplace Drama. It's not your responsibility to make sure they're not sabotaging their own career by making jokes that could land them in hot water. But don't give them a reason to believe that they're the office Seinfeld.
"Tell me the truth, I won't be mad."
For a white lie to work, it can't immediately be disproven a few minutes later. Go ahead and use this white lie if you must, but be prepared that it only works once. The moment the facade falls away and you reveal that, despite assurances to the contrary, there was always a possibility that you were going to get furious, you won't be able to use this white lie again and have the same effect.
"I didn't throw it away."
Whether you're talking about a birthday card from your grandma or a special piece of art drawn by a five-year-old, nobody can be expected to hold onto everything. But that doesn't mean you should break their hearts by revealing that the thing they expected you to cherish forever might've ended up in the nearest trash can. Don't ever admit this. Even if you're caught in the act, or they find their masterpiece in the garbage, insist on your innocence. There are just some things in life where the truth makes everything worse.
"I've been swamped lately."
It's a classic white lie that's almost exclusively used when somebody has missed—or is pretty sure they're going to miss—a deadline. Nobody says, "I've been swamped lately," before announcing, "but I still found time to finish that project!" What you're really saying is, you're feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes admitting to your coworkers or supervisors that you're falling behind goes a lot farther than inventing a fictional avalanche of work responsibilities.
So you said something hurtful and you realize too late that you may have inadvertently trampled on a loved one's emotions? A white lie like "just kidding" can be an effective way of backtracking, even if both of you know that it's totally bunk. It's essentially saying, "I know I messed up, so I'm going to pretend I meant it as a joke with the worst punchline of all time and I hope that you accept it in the apologetic way it was intended."
"I didn't do it."
Ah, a classic in the white lies genre. You very clearly did something wrong, and everybody knows that you are the sole one responsible, but you're hoping that a declaration of denial, if delivered with enough enthusiasm, will be enough to create just enough doubt to get you off the hook. Alas, it almost never works, but that doesn't stop us from trying. And for more things you may not realize are hurting your loved ones, check out the 30 Unkind Things You're Doing Without Even Realizing It.
"I have read the terms and conditions."
Face it: No one reads the terms and conditions when they're buying something online. You might very well be agreeing to sign away all of your personal information, and every photo you've ever taken of your children, but that would involve far too much actual reading. Just click the box and pretend you're fine with whatever you've agreed to. Hopefully, it all works out in the end. And for more common lies to watch out for, learn about the The 40 Lies Everyone Tells on a Daily Basis.
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