, pub-6663105814926378, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 The Homemade Lie Detector Urban Legends 4289

The Homemade Lie Detector Urban Legends

This ancient international story about how a thief is tricked into revealing his guilt has many variations and occasionally surfaces in a modern setting (often in printed sources). The traditional motif is J1141.16 (The thief is tricked into betraying himself in supposed ordeal). Those credited with the trick include an Arab sheik, Argentinean gauchos, Native Americans, and European villagers, among others.

The essence of the trap is that a group of suspects, one of whom must be guilty, is told that a certain object, if touched, will magically identify the true thief. The guilty person is the only one not to touch the object, which usually has been smeared with some substance that shows up only on the hands of the innocent parties.

The “lie detector” may be an animal, such as a cock or raven under a pot (black with soot), a donkey (its tail soaked in a mint solution), or a sheep (with soot-blackened fleece). Supposedly the animal would have made a noise when the thief touched it, but the real tip-off is the lack of soot or mint on the thief’s hands. A Chinese version of the story has a bell smeared with India ink; a Japanese version has a dust-covered statue; and an American version from the Ozarks has a “poppet” (i.e., a doll) smeared with walnut juice. In most versions of the story, whatever the object used, the touching is done inside a tent, in the dark, or behind a curtain so that the thief thinks he cannot be detected in failing to touch the supposed truth-teller.

Although “The Homemade Lie Detector” seems to have no currency as an American oral legend, it has shown up in the twentieth century in a Jack London story, in comic strips, on an episode of TV’s M*A*S*H, and in Reader’s Digest.

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