It is believed by many that the phrase “Liar, liar, pants on fire. Hangin’ on a telephone wire!” is a paraphrase of an 1810 poem by William Blake, titled “The Liar”. However, there has been an alternative explanation circulating for a few years that is just as entertaining as Blake’s poem.

It is believed by many that the phrase “Liar, liar, pants on fire. Hangin’ on a telephone wire!” is a paraphrase of an 1810 poem by William Blake, titled “The Liar”. However, there has been an alternative explanation circulating for a few years that is just as entertaining as Blake’s poem.

Image by Jim Linwood via Flickr

William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, painter and printmaker. Though he was unrecognized while he was alive, he is now considered a seminal figure in the history of poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Blake’s “The Liar” poem reads,

Deceiver, dissembler

Your trousers are alight

From what pole or gallows

Shall they dangle in the night?

 

When I asked of your career

Why did you have to kick my rear

With that stinking lie of thine

Proclaiming that you owned a mine?

 

When you asked to borrow my stallion

To visit a nearby-moored galleon

How could I ever know that you

Intended only to turn him into glue?

 

What red devil of mendacity

Grips your soul with such tenacity?

Will one you cruelly shower with lies

Put a pistol ball between your eyes?

 

What infernal serpent

Has lent you his forked tongue?

From what pit of foul deceit

Are all these whoppers sprung?

 

Deceiver, dissembler

Your trousers are alight

From what pole or gallows

Do they dangle in the night?

One can see the striking connection between the children’s rhyme and Blake’s poem. However, it is unlikely that young children would have read and processed this poem, and paraphrased it so succinctly. Unless with the help of a teacher or adult.

Nonetheless, the alternative explanation is based on a story about a curious and venturing young country boy. One day this young boy took a cigar from his father’s smoke box and ran off to the tool shed out back where he lit the cigar and mimicked what he had seen his father do many times. His father smelling the cigar smoke coming out of the shed started walking in that direction. The boy heard his father’s footsteps on the leaves and as quickly put the cigar in his back pocket before his father opened the shed door.

When asked what he was doing in the shed, the boy said he was looking for a fish hook and continued to explain that his friend had found a productive fishing spot but that they had snagged both their hooks. Meanwhile, smoke is coming from behind the boy, sparking into a flame. The father seeing this yells “Liar, liar, pants on fire” and proceeds to put the fire out by vigorously smacking the back of the boy’s pants.

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  • thelyricwriter on Sep 11, 2011

    Very interesting. It is amazing how these stories begin and how they stand the test of time. Great article.

  • juny423 on Sep 11, 2011

    It’s nice rhyming indeed and thanks for sharing :)

  • Larkin on Apr 2, 2012

    No record of the “Blake” poem until 2000, when it mysteriously appeared on internet. That account is probably a hoax.

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