Say what you mean and mean what you say


In the English language, we have a lot of quotes that comes across as powerful and inspiring, but many people don’t know what they mean or where they come from. One such phrase is “Say what you mean and mean what you say”.

“Say what you mean and mean what you say”means don’t tell the truth and keep your promises. No matter what.

In this article, I want to go over where this phrase comes from, as well as analysing just how good of a quote it actually is.

Such a phrase is relatively new, but the concepts of honesty and integrity are ancient.

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Some of the idioms that we have go back to our ancient civilisations, some were brought over by the Romans, the French, the Germans. But this one is slightly newer.

The woman who came up with it is still alive!

Stephanie Lahart is an author and self-help guru. I know that upon reading the words “self-help guru” some of you are going to be rolling your eyes, and tutting.

However, there is no denying this woman has become very successful from doing what she does.

And I personally think her advice here is pretty good, even if it is a little cliché.

Is it biblical?

One could make the argument that “say what you mean and mean what you say” is biblical in origin.

One of the ten commandments is “Thou Shalt Not Lie”.

If you say something that you don’t mean, you are telling a lie. That’s the very definition of telling a lie!

Dishonesty is the cause of a lot of the evils that have occurred throughout history. For example, slavery was based upon the lie that blacks were inferior to whites.

This does raise the questions of “Why say ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’ when you can just say ‘always be honest’?”

Why it’s a good phrase

Although maybe slightly convoluted, it is a fantastic phrase. Always being honest, and never lying is the most effective and moral way to live your life.

At first, telling a white lie might seem like a good idea as it allows you to get away with things that you don’t want to confess to. But when you tell one lie, you often need to build upon it, and try to remember your previous lies.

Lying can also have some unexpected consequences down the road. If you lie about loving someone to get them into bed, you might find that you end up with a child support suit on your hands.


“Say what you mean and mean what you say” is not the only way of saying that you should always try to be honest.

“Be true to yourself” is telling you to be honest, but importantly with yourself.

“Thou shalt not lie” is probably the oldest way of saying it. It comes from the Bible.

“Honesty is the best policy” has a rhythmic element to it, making it memorable.

And of course, who could forget Jordan Peterson’s “Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie”.

Are they the same thing?

I want you to try and tell me what the difference is between saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

When I first thought this up, I couldn’t think of anything. So I Googled it, and found out that Lewis Carol tried to explore this in the classic “Alice in Wonderland”.

The Mad Hatter is of the opinion that these two are very different things, after all, seeing what you eat, and eating what you see are completely different things.

The trouble with his explanation however is that it doesn’t actually explain what the difference between the two are.

Is it a tautology?

It could be argued therefore that “say what you mean and mean what you say”is just a tautological way of saying “be honest”.

A tautology is a phrase or sentence that just goes round in circles and doesn’t mean anything. For example, “The Sahara is a very dry desert”. Deserts are dry by their nature, so calling a desert “dry” doesn’t add anything.

The only way that “Say what you mean and mean what you say” isn’t tautological is if the two are different things, which I’m not convinced they are.

Language nerd stuff

The types of words used here is great for a language nerd to delve into.

The usage of the imperative verb is something that only gets seen in instructions. Usually when we have a verb, it has a pronoun in front of it, as we are describing actions.

Imperative verbs remove the pronouns, to make clear that you are telling someone what to do.

Such a phrase is written in the infinite tense. This means it can apply to the past, present and future. To change the tense, you will need to add extra words on.

You should have said what you meant and meant what you said- Past

You should say what you mean and mean what you say- Present

You’re going to need to say what you mean and mean what you say- Future.

How to apply it

There are many areas of your life that you might want to apply this advice to.

If you’re dating, you will want to find someone right for you. And this means being honest at all times, not manipulating them into getting into bed with you, and not pretending to be someone you’re not just to get them to like you.

When you’re working, you don’t want to have to keep on top of all your lies. Therefore, it’s best to just tell the truth at all times.

And with your social life, you don’t want to pretend to be into boring things just to get others to like you.


“Say what you mean and mean what you say” is just a convoluted and tautological way of saying what the Bible managed to say thousands of years ago “Thou Shalt not lie”.

Despite it’s complicity to say a rather simple point, it is good advice, and your life will be much better if you choose to live by it.