Lying existed in the 1600s, just as it does today. And many slang expressions described liars and lying.
Here, then, are a few of the many ways people spoke about lying in the early days of New England:
The Art of Lying
Jilt. A woman who encouraged a man to spend money courting her when she planned to then deceive or abandon him.
Hum or humbug. If someone humbugged you, or hummed you, they lied to you.
Flam. A flam was a lie, and a flim flam was a silly story.
Gulled. If you were gulled, you had been deceived or fooled by a lie. You were gullible.
Gamon. If you gamonned someone you lied to them.
Jibber the kibber. This was a particular type of deception. It involved tying a lantern around a horse’s neck stationed on a shore. From a distance, the light could look like a ship. It could then draw other ships onto the shore where thieves )also known as mooncussers) could plunder it.
Fetch. A fetch was a trick or scheme designed to deceive someone.
Couch. To couch was to lie.
Fob. A fob was a lie designed to distract someone from the truth, as in fobbing off someone’s complaint.
Cross. You might call a dishonest man a cross cove.
Round dealing. In contrast, a man known for round dealing had a reputation for honesty. Likewise a scaly fish was a blunt, but honest, sailor.
Up to their gossip. If you were too smart to be taken in by someone’s lying, you were up to the gossip.
Cully. If you were a cully, however, you were someone who was especially gullible, and an easy mark for a liar.
Bowyers. A bowyer was a liar who told spectacular stories, probably derived from archers who frequently told of their fantastic shots.
Thanks to: Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, By Francis Grose (1785) and Villainies Discovered: OR The Devil’s Cabinet Broken Open, By Richard Head (1673). This story was updated in 2023.