“You didn’t like working for Wilde?”
“I was fired. For insubordination. I test very high on insubordination, General.”
“I always did myself, sir. I’m glad to hear it.”
—Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
The General asks a question; the detective responds with a truthful statement which may or may not answer the General’s question. It’s a shifting of focus with intent to mislead.
If you’ve ever listened to a political debate, you’ve heard it in action.
If you’ve ever listened to a sale’s pitch, you’ve heard it.
There’s little doubt you do it too, at least once a day.
It’s called paltering.
A recent BBC article titled The devious art of lying while telling the truth claims a new term has recently been coined for this misleading tactic of truth-speak. Namely, paltering.
As it happens, the verb palter—meaning to shift, equivocate, or prevaricate in action or speech; to act or deal evasively, esp. for treacherous ends; to use trickery (OED)—dates from at least 1580. Also, except for the verb, the OED contains all the usual associated words: palterer (n.), paltering (n. & adj.), palterly (adv.). Hardly a new term, but that’s not the point.
The BBC article got me thinking about the role of paltering in fiction.