I always understood our version ("liar, liar, pants on fire, hanging on a telephone wire") to indicate a pair of trousers blazing away on an overhead wire with nobody wearing them. The imagery made a strange kind of sense: you were caught lying, so your pants were taken away from you (or a pair stolen from your closet), set alight, and slung out of reach in a place where everyone could see you publicly accused of lying.
The Blake poem reference:" It is frequently claimed that â€œLiar, liar, pants on fireâ€ is related to an alleged 1810 poem by William Blake, titled â€œThe Liar,â€ that begins: â€œDeceiver, dissembler; Your trousers are alight. From what pole or gallows; Shall they dangle in the night?â€ There is no record that this poem was written in 1810 by William Blake; the poem appears first on internet blogs in the 2000s. The alleged William Blake poem is featured in a â€œLiar Liar Pants on Fireâ€ entry in the Uncyclopedia, a Wikipedia parody." in fact is a parody, so we still don't know its origin.
I would think that,"nose as long as a telephone wire" refers to Pinnochio's nose, but what does "pants on fire" refer to? Or, maybe, it has no referrent at all, but was the only word that the person who created it could find that rhymed with liar.
I think Freud would claim that "Pants on fire" is a sexual reference. Perhaps the object of the person was lying to his girl friend about his sexual interest in her and she calls him out by saying "liar, liar your pants are on fire." The more I think about it, the more plausible this explanation appears. I don't think it is the reverse or the saying would be, "liar, liar, your panties are on fire."
In my neighborhood we said "Liar, liar, your pants are on fire; you can't get over a telephone wire", which even then I thought made little sense; would I have been able to get over a telephone wire had I been telling the truth?
Barry Popik wrote on this recently:
(I found the part about the "alleged 1810 poem" interesting as well.)
When we were kids we used to accuse a friend of lying by chanting,"Liar liar pants are on fire nose is long as a telephone wireLiar liar" I sure we made that up in our neighborhood and then the other day while playing cards with a person from Liberal Texas and she said, "liar, liar, chicken fryer your pants are on fire" something she said from her youth.
My question: How did it get from our neighborhood in Brigham City Utah to Liberal Kansas