Liar vs. lier

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The verb lie has two sets of definitions. First, it refers to someone or something that reclines, rests in a horizontal position, or is situated in a specified place. Someone or something that does one of these things is a lier. A lier on the floor, for instance, risks getting stepped on. The second main definition of lie is to make a statement one knows to be false. One who does this is a liar.


Lier is rare—it in fact appears more commonly as a surname and as a misspelling of liar—so examples such as the ones below are not easy to find. We had to go back to the 19th century (partly because any actual instances of lier on the web are buried under the millions of misspellings of liar):

A lier in bed may be allowed to profess a disinterested indifference for his health or longevity. [“Getting Up on Cold Mornings,” Leigh Hunt (c. 1830)]

This food, which consists chiefly of dipterous or two winged insects, is captured as they cross the perch of the bird, so that it is a lier in wait, and springs upon its prey. [The British Cyclopaedia (1838)]

What was his surprise when he drew near the place of ambush to find it occupied by other liers in-wait ! [A New Life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Walter  Denning (1904)]

Liar, as used in these examples, is far more common:

Tagg Romney, 42, told a talk-radio host this week that hearing his father described as a liar … made him want to “take a swing at” President Obama. [Los Angeles Times]

Two men circling, talking over each other, drawing on different facts and calling each other liars looked like a metaphor for much that has gone wrong in American political culture. [Mail & Guardian Online]

As for her supposed lies, if every politician who backflips is a liar, then every coffee-drinking athlete is a drug cheat. [The Australian]

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