Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations
(Ways to handle those tricky situations! )
You’re called upon for an opinion of a friend who is extremely
lazy. You don’t want to lie — but you also don’t want to risk losing
even a lazy friend.
Try this line: “In my opinion,” you say as sincerely as you can
manage, “you will be very fortunate to get this person to work for
This gem of double meaning is the creation of Robert Thornton, a
professor of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
Thornton was frustrated about an occupational hazard for teachers,
having to write letters of recommendation for people with dubious
qualifications, so he put together an arsenal of statements that can
be read two ways.
He calls his collection the Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous
Recommendations. Or LIAR, for short.
LIAR may be used to offer a negative opinion of the personal
qualities, work habits or motivation of the candidate while allowing
the candidate to believe that it is high praise, Thornton explained
Some examples from LIAR
To describe a person who is totally inept: I most enthusiastically
recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever.
To describe an ex-employee who had problems getting along with fellow
workers: I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague
To describe a candidate who is so unproductive that the job would be
better left unfilled: I can assure you that no person would be better
for the job.
To describe a job applicant who is not worth further consideration: I
would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of
To describe a person with lackluster credentials: All in all, I cannot
say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too
Thornton pointed out that LIAR is not only useful in preserving
friendships, but it also can help avoid serious legal trouble in a
time when laws have eroded the confidentiality of letters of
In most states, he noted, job applicants have the right to read the
letters of recommendations and can even file suit against the writer
if the contents are negative.
When the writer uses LIAR, however, whether perceived correctly or not
by the candidate, the phrases are virtually litigation-proof, Thornton