[Ads-l] lies and statistics; Dilke or Darnell or...?

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed May 18 07:14:13 EDT 2016

We know a great deal about the history and pre-history of "lies, damned lies and statistics." An apparently earlier variant was popularized in many newspapers in 1891, e.g.:

"Sir Charles Dilke was saying the other day that false statements might be arranged according to their degree under three heads, fibs, lies, and statistics." The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Monday, October 19, 1891. Cf. The Derby Mercury, Wednesday, October 21, 1891 and several other newspapers also mentioning Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843-1911). Earlier that year two writers, Thomas Mackay (June 8) and "St. Swithin" (Mrs. Eliza Gutch; Oct. 10) recorded similar versions. E.R.L. Gould attributed the saying to Dilke in Nov. 1894. So Dilke may have been the first, as well as a popularizer.
But here is another early (1891) attribution (from an unconfirmed snippet):
"...two masses. Thus real information would be afforded as the relative numbers of worshippers, and Mr. Darnell's dictum respecting fibs, lies, and statistics, might--in one instance at [least?]..." The discussion seems to be in the context of proposed Disestablishment and Disendowment, as was the case in reports about Dilke. The quote is from Wed. 28 Oct. 1891, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer page 3 via British Newspaper Archive (any subscriber willing to check?). Apparently this Darnell was a solicitor, A. J. Darnell (sometime of Messrs. Darnell and Price, Northampton), and a founder of the Northampton Football Club. Perhaps Darnell got it from the earlier Dilke reports and the reporter didn't know. Or vice versa?

Stephen Goranson

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

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