Liar, liar, pants on fire is a popular rhyme, most often encountered in kindergarten contexts, shouted by children accusing each other of deception.
The phrase itself is used similarly to the movie quote You Sit on a Throne of Lies.
Although the exact origin of “Liar, liar, pants on fire” is fiercely debated, there are several indicators as to its origin.
Many claim it to come from the great poet William Blake, however, numerous scholars have debated this, due to the inept composition of the poem itself, which is said to be too flimsy for a renowned poet such as Blake.
One claim points to Dante’s Divine Comedy – known for the line Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here – where liars are depicted as constantly ablaze.
This, although it might get some people saying “Coincidence? I think not!”, however is not enough evidence, although it might have been a contributing factor in the punishment deemed worth for liars.
The earliest documented rhyme referring to liars is found in the 1841 publication of “Percy Society Vol. 4”, featuring “Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular Literature of the Middle Ages”.
The tome includes a nursery rhyme:
“Liar, liar, lick split,
Turn around the candlestick,
What’s good for liar?
Brimstone and fire.”
Although it is not exactly known, when the aforementioned archaic nursery had morphed into the currently well known “Liar, liar, pants on fire”, it appeared in print in 1945, in the Harper’s Bazaar, Vol. 79, Part 2, published by the Hearst Corporation.
The book features the phrase, later popularized by The Castaways’ 1965
song, “Liar, Liar”:
“Liar, liar, pants on fire
Your nose is longer than a telephone wire”
In the latter half of the 20th century, this version of the expression spread rapidly.
In a more contemporary context, it was referred to in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode “Life of Crime”, which first aired as the Season 2 Episode 7B of the series, on May 5th, 2001, and where Patrick Star says the line “Liar, Liar, Plants for Hire”.
The rhyme was used in 2016 in a slander song about Hillary Clinton as well.
- Learningenglish.voanews.com – ‘Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!’
- Atlasobscura.com – All the Lies About the Origins of ‘Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire’
- Idioms.thefreedictionary.com – Liar Liar Pants On Fire – Idioms by The Free Dictionary
- Yourdictionary.com – Liar-liar-pants-on-fire definition
- Quora.com – What does “pants on fire” mean in the phrase liar liar pants on fire?