The Truth
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

This page:

The Truth



index pages:

The Truth

Copyright © Terry and Lyn Pratchett 2000

The world is made up of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. [...] There’s a fifth element, and generally it’s called Surprise.

In fact he was incurably insane and hallucinated more or less continuously, but by a remarkable stroke of lateral thinking his fellow wizards had reasoned that, in that case, the whole business could be sorted out if only they could find a formula that caused him to hallucinate that he was completely sane.*

* This is a very common hallucination, shared by most people.

There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.

The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: ‘What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!’


Two kinds

‘My motives, as ever, are entirely transparent.’

Hughnon reflected that ‘entirely transparent’ meant either that you could see right through them or that you couldn’t see them at all.

‘A civilization runs on words, your reverence. Civilization is words. Which, on the whole, should not be too expensive.’

‘We always thought change came from outside, usually on the point of a sword. And then we look around and find that it comes from the inside of the head of someone you wouldn’t notice in the street. In certain circumstances it may be convenient to remove the head, but there seem to be such a lot of them these days.’

An engraved page was an engraved page, complete and unique. But if you took the leaden letters that had previously been used to set the words of a god, and then used them to set a cookery book, what did that do to the holy wisdom? For that matter, what would it do to the pie? As for printing a book of spells, and then using the same type for a book of navigation – well, the voyage might go anywhere.

‘Hey, you can’t sell it that cheap,’ said William.

‘Why not?’

‘Why? Because . . . because . . . because, well, anyone will be able to read it, that’s why!’

‘Good, ’cos that means anyone’ll be able to pay twenty pence,’ said Gunilla calmly. ‘There’s lots more poor folk than rich folk and it’s easier to get money out of ’em.’



Some negative qualities can reach a pitch of perfection that changes their very nature, and Mr Tulip had turned anger into an art.

It was not anger at anything. It was just pure, platonic anger from somewhere in the reptilian depths of the soul, a fountain of never-ending red-hot grudge; Mr Tulip lived his life on that thin line most people occupy just before they haul off and hit someone repeatedly with a spanner. For Mr Tulip, anger was the ground state of being.

He knew about concerned citizens. Wherever they were, they all spoke the same private language, where ‘traditional values’ meant ‘hang someone’. He did not have a problem with this, broadly speaking, but it never hurt to understand your employer.

Words resemble fish in that some specialist ones can survive only in a kind of reef, where their curious shapes and usages are protected from the hurly-burly of the open sea. ‘Rumpus’ and ‘fracas’ are found only in certain newspapers (in much the same way that ‘beverages’ are found only in certain menus). They are never used in normal conversation.



‘You have wisely purchased the Dis-organizer Mk II, the latest in biothaumaturgic design, with a host of useful features and no resemblance whatsoever to the Mk I which you may have inadvertently destroyed by stamping on it heavily!’ it said, adding, ‘This device is provided without warranty of any kind as to reliability, accuracy, existence or otherwise or fitness for any particular purpose and Bioalchemic Products specifically does not warrant, guarantee, imply or make any representations as to its merchantability for any particular purpose and furthermore shall have no liability for or responsibility to you or any other person, entity or deity with respect of any loss or damage whatsoever caused by this device or object or by any attempts to destroy it by hammering it against a wall or dropping it into a deep well or any other means whatsoever and moreover asserts that you indicate your acceptance of this agreement or any other agreement that may be substituted at any time by coming within five miles of the product or observing it through large telescopes or by any other means because you are such an easily cowed moron who will happily accept arrogant and unilateral conditions on a piece of highly priced garbage that you would not dream of accepting on a bag of dog biscuits and is used solely at your own risk.’
‘What’s the quote from? It’s very meaningful without, er, meaning anything very much.’
[...] William wondered why he always disliked people who said ‘no offence meant’. Maybe it was because they found it easier to say ‘no offence meant’ than actually refrain from giving offence.



If it was news it went in the paper, and if it was in the paper it was news. And it was the truth.



‘Let me in, I’m nosy,’ was not a request likely to achieve success. It lacked a certain authority.

‘I only wrote down what he said, sir.’

‘Aha, pulled a pen on him, eh?’


‘Writing things down at people? Tch, tch . . . that sort of thing only causes trouble.’

‘You should talk to me so that I can write it down, sir. All neat and correct. The actual words you say, right down there on the paper. And you know who I am, and if I get them wrong you know where to find me.’

‘So? You’re telling me that if I do what you want you’ll do what you want?’

‘I’m saying, sir, that a lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’

‘Ha! Did you just make that up?’

‘No, sir. But you know it’s true.’

Vimes sucked on his cigar. ‘And you’ll let me see what you’ve written?’

‘Of course. I’ll make sure you get one of the first papers off the press, sir.’

‘I meant before it gets published, and you know it.’

‘To tell you the truth, no, I don’t think I should do that, sir.’

‘I am the Commander of the Watch, lad.’

‘Yes, sir. And I’m not. I think that’s my point, really, although I’ll work on it some more.’



‘Would you like me to say that if anyone saw anything suspicious they should tell you, sir?’ said William.

‘In this town? We’d need every man on the Watch just to control the queue.’

Truth was what he told. Honesty was sometimes not the same thing.
He was appalled at the ease with which the truth turned into a something that was almost a lie, just by being positioned correctly.



‘Hold on, hold on, there must be a law against killing lawyers.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘There’re still some around, aren’t there?’



When people say clearly something, that means there’s a huge crack in their argument and they know things aren’t clear at all.

The press waited. It looked, now, like a great big beast. Soon he’d throw a lot of words into it. And in a few hours it would be hungry again, as if those words had never happened. You could feed it, but you could never fill it up.

‘I would not worry unduly. Vimes works by the rules.’

‘I’ve always understood him to be a violent and vicious man,’ said a chair.

‘Quite so. And because this is what he knows himself to be, he always works by the rules.’



No one said: Character assassination. What a wonderful idea. Ordinary assassination only works once, but this one works every day.

Classically, very few people have considered that cleanliness is next to godliness, apart from in a very sternly abridged dictionary. A rank loincloth and hair in an advanced state of matted entanglement have generally been the badges of office of prophets whose injunction to disdain earthly things starts with soap.

‘Is this the bit where my whole life passes in front of my eyes?’ he said.


‘Which bit?’




The worst part, the worst part, was that Lord de Worde was never wrong. It was not a position he understood in relation to his personal geography. People who took an opposing view were insane, or dangerous, or possibly even not really people. You couldn’t have an argument with Lord de Worde. Not a proper argument. An argument, from arguer, meant to debate and discuss and persuade by reason. What you could have with William’s father was a flaming row.

‘We’re on the same side here!’

‘No. We’re just on two different sides that happen to be side by side.’

‘The right to free speech is a fine old Ankh-Morpork tradition.’

‘Good heavens, is it?’

‘Yes, my lord.’

‘How did that one survive?’

‘So . . . we have what the people are interested in, and human interest stories, which is what humans are interested in, and the public interest, which no one is interested in.’

‘Except the public, sir,’ said William, trying to keep up.

‘Which isn’t the same as people and humans?’

‘I think it’s more complicated than that, sir.’

‘Obviously. Do you mean that the public is a different thing from the people you just see walking about the place? The public thinks big, sensible, measured thoughts while people run around doing silly things?’

‘I think so. I may have to work on that idea too, I admit.’

‘Hmm. Interesting. I have certainly noticed that groups of clever and intelligent people are capable of really stupid ideas,’ said Lord Vetinari.

‘Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.’ He smiled. ‘It’s the only way to make progress. That and, of course, moving with the times.’



text checked (see note) July 2011

top of page