If you’re not familiar with the TV show, Catfish, you can read all about it here. Basically, it’s a reality show featuring two guys, Nev and Max, who help online daters determine if the person they’ve been communicating with is authentic or pretending to be someone they aren’t.
Your Own Words Can Betray You
Within the first five minutes of Catfish, Season 6, Episode 1, I picked up on some common signs to deceit. Below are some of the words and phrases Shawny said to Max and Nev in the episode. I’ve also included the time she said it, so you can see for yourself. Then my deception analysis follows.
(0:06) Shawny: “At this point, I’ve fallen for whoever I’ve been talking to, honestly.”
After some preliminary research, Nev and Max think something is definitely amiss with the story they’ve been told. They tell Shawny it doesn’t feel right; “it’s unusual.”
(:20) Max: I just wanna give you an opportunity, now, to let us know, if by any chance, you know who this person already is, that you’re talking to?
Shawny: “I wish I did.” “I’m not, y’know, one of those type of people that even put myself out there like that, so this is kind of huge.”
“At this point” is a gap in time. More than just for the sake of brevity, deceptive people intentionally omit significant details. Identify gaps in time. This is where the omitted details are likely to be. Words and phrases that are commonly inserted to skip over those areas they do not want to talk about include: The next thing I knew, the next thing I remember, at this point, after, or later.
“Honestly” is a word used in attempt to bolster credibility. There are certain words and phrases people use to try to beef up their statement, in an attempt to convince you they are being truthful. What many liars don’t know is that by using these words, it usually backfires on them. Instead of boosting their credibility, it actually weakens their statement. A few of these deception markers include: I swear to God, honestly, to tell the truth, frankly, and truthfully. When people say honestly, it usually isn’t.
“I wish I did” is not answering the question. Max asked a yes or no question. A truthful person will answer specific questions with direct responses, whereas a deceptive person avoids answering the question.
“Y’know,” “even,” “like,” and “kind of” are fillers. In deception detection, the shortest sentence is the best response. If you remove extra words and it still makes sense, it is noteworthy. The extra filler words are often used to buy time to formulate a response, or signals lack of commitment to their statement. Shawny’s response is also not relevant to the question about whether or not she already knows who “Jack” really is. A more credible response to Max’s question would have been, “No, I don’t already know who this person is. That’s why I contacted you.”
More Common Deceptive Words
Shawny wasn’t the only one in Catfish, Season 6, to give good examples of deceptive words and phrases. In Episode 4, Shai provided additional illustrations of deceit when she is confronted about her real identity.
(:24) Max: How do we know you’re not lying to us now?
Shai: “I wouldn’t lie to you. I promise I’m not lying to you.”
Max: Give me a neighborhood where you’re from.
Shai: “I would say Canarsie.”
(:29) Shai: “I’m not a liar. Like I’m really not.”
“I wouldn’t lie” isn’t a true denial. Sometimes it only sounds like a denial. Because people don’t want to outwardly lie, guilty people will often do a word dance to make you think they are denying it without actually saying they did not do it. A couple phrases they may use instead include: I couldn’t do that, or I wouldn’t do that. They want you to believe it is impossible for them to have done what you’re suggesting. They want you to conclude they haven’t done it.
“I would say” is similar to above. Shai wants them to believe she is from Canarsie, but by prefacing it with I would say, instead just simply, “Canarsie,” it weakens her credibility.
“I Promise” and “really” are additional phrases similar to “honestly”, “I swear to God”, and “truthfully”, used in attempt to bolster credibility but instead means the opposite.
In my book, Drive-Thru Deception: Liars Don’t Want You to Know These Bite-Size Clues to Deceit, I talk about a good way to practice detecting deception through words is by watching reality TV and news programs. Catfish is another great show to hone these skills. An added bonus is that you’ll learn additional patterns that the scammers use which can prevent you from being catfished yourself. (Beware of anyone claiming to be a model or a rapper!)
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As Managing Director of Concealed Statements, and author of Drive Thru Deception, I work with men and women who want to increase their deception awareness to avoid wasting time or money and avoid making poor decisions based on inaccurate information.