lies, statistics, and Charles Dilke?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Jun 9 13:42:52 UTC 2008

I love it:
>false statements might be arranged according to their degree under
>three heads, fibs, lies, andjavascript...


At 6/9/2008 07:47 AM, Stephen Goranson wrote:
>... The three earliest known uses were all recorded in October 1891.
>Two are attributed to Charles Wentworth Dilke ...
>Here are those three:
>_Notes & Queries_ 10 Oct. 288  DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD. -- Who was it who
>said, "There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is
>a lie, and then come statistics"?  ST. SWITHIN
>Sir Charles Dilke [1843-1911] was saying the other day that false statements
>might be arranged according to their degree under three heads, fibs, lies,
>lies, statistics, and Charles Dilke?
>statistics. The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Monday, October 19 1891
>The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), October 21, 1891; Issue 9223
>A mass meeting of the slate quarry-men of Festiniog [Ffestiniog,
>Wales] was held
>Wednesday night [Oct. 14] to protest against certain dismissals from
>one of the
>quarries....He [Dilke] observed that the speeches of the Bishops on the
>disestablishment question reminded him that there were three degrees of
>untruth--a fib, a lie, and statistics (Laughter)
>It is remarkable that Dilke is the earliest known individual to use
>the phrase,
>except in the question by "St. Swithin," so Dilke is, at least, a
>candidate for
>the coiner. "St. Swithin" was a pseudonym used by Mrs. Eliza Gutch,
>according to
>Folk-Lore 41 (1930) 301 and 63 (1952); her address: Holgate Lodge, York.
>By a curious coincidence, Notes & Queries was owned by...Charles Dilke.
>Dilke occasionally contributed. "His contributions were generally submitted
>under a pseudonym or simply under the initial 'D'." This according to David
>Nicholls, _The Lost Prime Minister: A Life of Sir Charles Dilke_
>(1995) page 38.
>But, even if he coined it, he would not necessarily write in to claim it. And
>Dilke's fame receeded. Many had thought Dilke would become Prime
>Minister--among them Disraeli!--but a scandal, or charge of scandal, ended his
>prospects. Nicholls' biography tells this story well, both the scandal
>(involving politics and sex; though he may have been innocent of
>these charges,
>his other affairs complicated his defense) and Dilke's accomplishments,
>including the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885. The latter becomes
>interesting when one considers Leonard Courtney's 1895 use of the phrase,
>attributed, in a future, fictional voting setting, to "the Wise
>Statesman"--arguably more plausibly Courtney's ally Dilke than the deceased
>conservative Disraeli. (I think Prof. Nicholls [private communication] and I
>independently arrived at similar conclusions.)
>Robert Giffen (and cf. e.g. W.D. Gainsford) claimed that the phrase about lies
>was a modification ("lately been adapted," as of 1892) of an earlier phrase
>about three classes of bad court witnesses: liar, damned liar, and
>expert; this
>has been traced back, so far, to 1885 (Thomas Henry Huxley).
>(Several different
>London judges have been suggested as that coiner.) Some early uses of the
>statistics phrase also use the singular, fib and lie. Again, if these claims
>are approximately accurate, the statistics phrase might well be after
>Disraeli's lifetime.
>I checked some of Dilke's writings (listed in Nicholls' biography) but didn't
>notice an earlier use. But I haven't located a copy of A Radical Programme, a
>1890 pamphlet; the serialized earlier version does quote Augustine on lies and
>mentions the disestablishment debate; possibly the revised pamphlet version
>is worth a look. Dilke's papers are in the British Library.
>Though I think less likely than Dilke, another candidate is mentioned, though
>late, in 1921:
>Years ago before I [H.G.P. Deans, writing in J. of Accountancy p. 31] came to
>this country I used to be a very assiduous reader of the _Illustrated London
>News_.... In those days James Payn, the novelist, used to conduct a more or
>less witty column in that paper, and I remember his writing on one occasion
>something which sank down into my mind so that I have never forgotten it. He
>said in answer to a correspondent: "There are three degrees or
>classes of lies;
>there are lies, damned lies and statistics."
>Payn did write "Our Note Book" from 1888 to 1898, if I recall
>correctly. I made
>only a hasty look (and a volume was missing) but found nothing relevant.
>So, at least for today, Dilke is my guess.
>Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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