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One of the more unpleasant aspects of a state of war under modern conditions is the appearance of a swarm of individuals, too clever by half, in positions of authority, excited, conceited, prepared to lie, distort and generally humbug people into states of mind supposed to be conductive to a final military victory.

*bolds are mine

- The new world order by H.G. Wells

According to Cambridge dictionary the word distort means:

to change something so that it is false or wrong, or no longer means what it was intended to mean:

Where does the word "distort" belong to? To the people like, they are prepared to distort people? If so what can "distorting people" mean in this context?

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I think it's a slip on Wells' part. You're quite right that "distorting people" would make no sense, so I think he meant:

prepared to lie, distort the facts and generally humbug people into states of mind supposed to be conductive to a final military victory.

("Distorting the facts" or "distorting the truth" are very common phrases in English and would be very appropriate to the kind of activity Wells is describing).

However, that would mess up the flow of the sentence, especially as the structure of the sentence rather relies on all three things being verbs "done to people". So I presume he left out the words "the facts" or "the truth" either by mistake or possibly on purpose, thinking that it would make the sentence flow better and that the words "the truth" or "the facts" were so predictable that his readers wouldn't even notice they were missing. In which he may have been right - in fact, I had to read it twice myself to work out what was wrong. In this case, you noticed more because you were less familiar with the language!

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  • 'lying people' makes no sense either. May 19 at 9:36
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    The "mistake" isn't in Wells's text - it's in this answer, which mistakenly assumes the preceding verbs to lie, and distort are part of a "parallel construction" within which all three verbs are "transitive". But they're not. Just because to lie CAN be used "transitively" (with object "to people") doesn't mean it HAS TO BE. And unquestionably, [to] distort is an intransitive usage here (with the implied but unstated "object" [distorted] facts - nothing to do with distorting people). May 19 at 13:02
  • I see nothing wrong with Wells' text. These individuals are prepared to lie, they are prepared to distort, they are prepared to generally humbug. There are no missing words.
    – stangdon
    May 19 at 18:31

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