Antedating of "Big Lie"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Oct 21 20:11:56 UTC 2005

On Fri, 21 Oct 2005 15:56:55 -0400, Fred Shapiro wrote:

>In the course of working on the Yale Dictionary of Quotations I have
>found many antedatings of important terms in the OED; after the YDQ is
>published I will send a list of such antedatings to the OED.
>Here's one example now, although I have not tracked down the precise
>citation.  The OED's first use for "big lie" is dated 1946, when in fact
>this originated in or was popularized by a well known passage in
>Hitler's Mein Kampf.  Mein Kampf was published in a full English
>translation in 1939 and an abridged translation in 1933, so I assume
>"big lie" can be traced in English at least back to 1939.

Indeed. This came up last year on sci.lang, and I offered this 1941
reference to a translation of Mein Kampf:

        Crash of the House of Lies That Hitler Built
        By Anne O'Hare McCormick
        New York Times, Jun 23, 1941. p. 16

        In THE TIMES Magazine yesterday appeared an excerpt from
        "Mein Kampf" which might have been an introductory note
        to Hitler's pronouncement.  From the beginning he has
        advocated lying as an instrument of policy and the big
        lie in preference to the little lie.  Asserting that
        propaganda must appeal forever and only to the masses,
        he wrote that "with primitive simplicity of their minds
        they will more easily fall victims to a great lie than
        to a small."

--Ben Zimmer

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