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belie

February 8, 2016

I’m reading The Ugly Game by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, about how Qatar finagled their way to the 2022 World Cup (I am reviewing it for the Independent on Sunday) and have just come across a sentence that made me scratch my head. Here it is: “Mohamed’s wide-set features and tight cap of black curls belied the distant African ancestry that would always set him apart from the pure-bred Arabs who ruled the roost in Doha.”

I was momentarily confused: did Mohamed (bin Hamman) have African ancestry or not? On the one hand, wide-set features and tight black curls sounds African – but these features belied his African ancestry, ie gave the lie to it. What?

The explanation is that Blake and Calvert think that belie means its opposite. They think it means reveal or give away. This isn’t an uncommon mistake; people do seem to have problems with the very concept of belie. It means to give the wrong impression. It doesn’t mean to unwittingly give the game away. I hope that clarifies matters.

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