Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

White Lies

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 22, 2010

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the phrase “white lies” is from 1741.  One can indeed find the phrase in The Gentleman’s Magazine edition of December 19, 1741 in an article entitled “Of Lies, White and Black.”  The article states in part:

A certain Lady of the highest Quality … makes a judicious Distinction between a white Lie and a black Lie. A white Lie is That which is not intended to injure any Body in his Fortune, Interest, or Reputation but only to gratify a garrulous Disposition and the Itch of amusing People by telling Them wonderful Stories.

However, in 1517, Martin Luther referred to lies of necessity as white lies and he stated that as such, white lies were not permissable and were, without a doubt, a sin because white lies breached the Ninth Commandment.

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