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LIAR - The Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous RecommendationsA classic guide to intentional ambiguity

by David V. Appleyard

Robert J. Thornton, professor of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA., was feeling frustrated about one of the worst occupational hazards of being a teacher—that of having to write letters of recommendation for people with dubious qualifications. In an attempt to address the problem he decided to put together an arsenal of statements that can be read two ways, and he called his collection the Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations—or LIAR for short!

LIAR may be used to offer a negative opinion of the personal qualities, work habits or motivation of the candidate, while allowing the candidate to believe that (s)he is being praised to high heaven. If you study the following examples, you'll soon get the hang of it:

  1. When called upon for an opinion of a friend who is extremely lazy, just say:
    "You will be very fortunate to get this person to work for you."
  2. To describe a person who is totally inept:
    "I most enthusiastically recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever."
  3. To describe an ex-employee who had problems getting along with fellow workers:
    "I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague of mine."
  4. To describe a candidate who is so unproductive that the job would be better left unfilled:
    "I can assure you that no person would be better for the job."
  5. To describe a job applicant who is not worth further consideration:
    "I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment."
  6. To describe a person with lackluster credentials:
    "All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly."

Thornton points out that LIAR is not only useful in preserving friendships but it can also help avoid serious legal trouble in a time when laws have eroded the confidentiality of letters of recommendation.

In most American states, he notes, job applicants have the right to read the letters of recommendation, and can even file a suit against the writer if the contents are too negative. When the writer uses LIAR, however, "whether perceived correctly or not by the candidate, the phrases are virtually litigation-proof."

Professor Thornton's book first appeared in October 2003 and is published by Sourcebooks Hysteria at a list price of $14.99. If you're stuck choosing a gift for the person who already has everything, this highly entertaining read might just be your answer.