antedating "three kinds of falsehood...statistics" June 8, 1891

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Jan 24 10:03:06 UTC 2009

Thanks. I see I neglected to mention the letter writer. And the rest of the
citation is issue 6.134 beginning on p.93 col. 2 (with the quotation),
continuing on p. 94 col. 1, and ending on col 2. It's signed by T.
Mackay. Given the subject matter I guess this is Thomas Mackay
(1849-1912), social theorist and writer on just such questions. Mackay did not
claim to originate the three kinds observation. I guess that Robert Giffen
(editor, economist, statistician, 1837-1919) was correct when he said in a Jan.
1892 talk published in June 1892 (refs. in ads-l archive, my emphasis):  "An
old jest runs to the effect that there are three degrees of comparison among
liars. There are liars, there are outrageous liars, and there are scientific
experts [traced to Dec. 1885 in the archives]. This has *lately* been adapted to
throw dirt upon statistics. There are three degrees of comparison, it is said,
in lying.  There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are
statistics." It remains to see who said it first. The "it" is probably not in
the exact form that Twain ascribed, incorrectly, it appears, to Disraeli
(1804-1881), since the "fib, lie" version came before the "lies, damned lies"
version. C. W. Dilke ([1843-1911] whose papers are in the British Library) is
one likely suspect.


Quoting "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>:

> Good show, Stephen!
> Fred Shapiro
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
> Stephen Goranson [goranson at DUKE.EDU]
> Sent: Friday, January 23, 2009 8:46 AM
> Subject: antedating "three kinds of falsehood...statistics" June 8, 1891
> Letter written june 8, 1891, published June 13, 1891, The National
> Observer p.
> 93(-94):
> [To the Editor of _The National Observer_]
> London, 8th June, 1891
> Sir,--It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of
> falsehood: the
> first is a 'fib,' the second is a downright lie, and the third and most
> aggravated is statistics. It is on statistics and on the absence of
> statistics
> that the advocate of national pensions relies.....
> The three previously noticed quotations from later in 1891:
> _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, and
> 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)
> Stephen Goranson
> "Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene"
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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