Thursday, February 25, 2010

Word Qualifiers

Most people are reluctant to lie outright, so they add word qualifiers to sentences to make the sentences appear truthful. In order to maintain the truth, people use words that are less assertive, reduce certainty, and weaken personal commitment to their statements. Word qualifiers tend to make deceptive statements appear true under certain parameters established by the writer or speaker. Word qualifiers include: probably, I think, kind of, like, maybe, perhaps, presumably, roughly, about, sort of, and surely. Word qualifiers can take a more subtle form. The more subtle word qualifiers typically follow short answers to direct questions. Interviewees want to appear as though they are answering direct questions but want to give themselves some wiggle room in the event of a challenge. Consider the following exchange:

CBP Officer: Do you have any flora or fauna to declare?

Visitor: No, I have no flora or fauna to declare?

The words flora and fauna are word qualifiers. The visitor may not have flora or fauna but may have plants and flowers. Each person constructs a personal dictionary for the words he or she uses. With few exceptions, people share the same or similar definitions for the words they use. The similarity of definitions allows people to communicate efficiently. The definitions of the words people use to communicate their ideas and emotions correspond, with few exceptions, to the word definitions of the intended listeners. Liars, on the other hand, elongate or restrict their personal word definitions to introduce definitional relativity. Problems arise because liars typically do not notify listeners or readers of the change in personal word definitions. The following illustrates a clever use of word qualifiers by a visitor who possesses contraband.

CBP Officer: Do you have anything to declare?

Visitor: No, nothing to declare.

The visitor is telling the truth. He, in fact, has nothing to declare. In the visitor’s mind he has nothing to declare, for if he did declare the contraband he possessed, he would be detained and the contraband seized. At this point, the officer does not know if the visitor is truthful or not. The visitor’s answer “No” is qualified by the words, nothing to declare. Truthful visitors simply answer “No” without qualification. The officer could ask the follow- up question designed to test the veracity of the visitor. For example, “Are you bringing anything into the country that you know you are not supposed to bring in?” The visitor’s response may provide clues as to the visitor’s veracity. If the visitor takes the officer to the Land of Is, then there is a high probability that the visitor is being deceptive. The unique feature of this technique is that if the visitor is telling the truth, he will less likely become offended. In fact, he may not realize that his veracity was tested.

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