origin of the phrase: the right to privacy

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Jan 27 21:46:26 UTC 2011

The following might show a source in the 18th or 17th centuries, but
finding one with the literal phrase (as opposed to the concept) would
require much reading:

Flaherty, David H. Privacy in Colonial New England. Charlottesville:
University Press of Virginia, 1967.

Are all the 96 GBooks hits for the phrase "right to privacy" prior to
1890 false?

This one seems genuinely 1856 (although Google says 1887):  How to
behave: a pocket manual of republican etiquette, and guide ... - Page
52 - Samuel Roberts Wells - 1887 - 149 pages.  (On an early page, a
handwritten notation says "1860 gift of ..." and the imprinted
"entered according to ..." says "1856."  Harvard agrees 1856.)

"This right to privacy extends to one's business, his personal
relations, his thoughts, and his feelings. Don't . intrude ; and
always " mind your own business," which means, by implication, that
you must let other people's business ..."

Earlier instances are largely journals, which I'm too lazy to vet,
but the phrase also appears in 1830:  A treatise on the law of
slander and libel: and incidentally of ...: Volume 1 - Page liv -
Thomas Starkie - 1830 (title page says 1830):

"... or even legal delinquency of one who publishes the truth, with a
malicious design to create mischief, but whether the party,
concerning whom nothing more than the truth is published, has such a
right to privacy and concealment, ... "


At 1/27/2011 04:11 PM, Dennis Baron wrote:
>Did the phrase "the right to privacy" originate with the essay of
>that name by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in the Harvard Law
>Review of 1890? An OED search for the phrase yields that article as
>the earliest cite. I'm teaching the article in my Language and Law
>class next week, and I am curious to know if the phrase antedates
>that often cited article? (I wouldn't be surprised if it does.)
>Dennis Baron
>Professor of English and Linguistics
>Department of English
>University of Illinois
>608 S. Wright St.
>Urbana, IL 61801
>office: 217-244-0568
>fax: 217-333-4321
>read the Web of Language:
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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