Exactly what the title says.
Unlike some of the other “bugging me” posts, this one is actually relevant to my work. See, I’m trying to work out the proper phrasing for one sentence in my pirate novel. Specifically, the correct use of the word “belie” or “belied”.
First, the definition of the word:
- to give a false impression of
- to present an appearance not in agreement with
- to show (something) to be false or wrong
- to run counter to : contradict
and so on.
Examples from the dictionary:
- A tree whose delicate beauty belies its real toughness
- Their actions belie their claim to be innocent.
In the first example, the “delicate beauty” would seem to hide its real toughness–give a false impression–while in the second example, the actions show the claim to be false.
In the first example, the tree–the thing doing the belying–conceals the truth, while in the second example, the actions reveal the truth.
In the first, the tree give a false impression; in the second, the actions contradict a false impression.
Thus, the word in these two examples appears to have completely opposite meanings.
The first question, obviously, is whether both of these meanings are actually correct. I have found articles indicating that the word is frequently misused, so it might be that the dictionary has simply been updated to include common uses… even if those uses were not initially correct.
But assuming that both uses are technically correct, the question now is which meaning sounds more appropriate to my needs?
Here is the problematic section of the story:
The councilor raised his pistol again, but the….
- big man’s size belied his speed.
- big man moved with a speed that belied his size
The councilor’s pistol and rapier were knocked from his hands, and he found himself slammed against the wall, before he could even touch the trigger. He clawed at the pirate’s arm, fighting for air.
Suffice to say, I want the sentence to mean that the man is so large, the councilor did not expect him to move so fast. (“Big” as in muscle, of course; compare a bodybuilder to a runner.)
Which version of that sentence sounds better?
I suppose I should now add “spending more time on one sentence than on finishing the other 120+ pages of the story” to the list of things that bug me. 😉