Printable Version
Pronunciation: bê-lai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To give a false impression of. 2. To contradict, to prove false.

Notes: The forms of this Good Word show some variation in spelling: the present tense is belies. but the present participle is "belying." The noun, belier, is now archaic and rarely used; it retains an old meaning of the root, "a liar".

In Play: Even though you can see lie in this word, its meaning has shifted to something much more positive: "The grace with which she swished across the dance floor belied the weeks of hard labor Angela Lightfoot had put into dancing lessons." Belie may also point to a contradiction between what appears to be the case and actuality, "The calmness in her voice belied the strong desire welling up in Heddy Wein to strangle the pencil-pusher denying her the insurance claim."

Word History: Belie is obviously related to the verb lie "to speak falsely". It actually descended directly from Old English beleogan "to lie about", based on be- "about" + leogan "to lie". The same root (*legh-/logh-) became lozh "a lie" and lgat' "to lie" in Russian. It also shows up in German lgen and in Swedish ljuga "to lie". Of course, male witches are known liars, so we call them warlocks, a word that comes from Old English wrloga "oath-breaker", based on wr "pledge, oath" + loga "liar"—another cousin of today's word. (Today's Good Word is sponsored by Steve Moskowitz, who rightly thought that its form belies its meaning.)

Dr. Goodword,

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