Zooniverse volunteer discovers ‘white lies’ are 200 years older than previously thought

A Letter from Ralph Adderley to Sir Nicholas Bagnall, Ireland, 1567 April 10. A close-up of the manuscript where he writes ‘(excepte a White lye)’


Ever told a ‘white lie’? Well you’re in company. Maybe not good company, but lots of it, and going back further in time than you might think. Shakespeare’s World moderator and volunteer @Mutabilitie identified an example of the phrase in a letter of 1567, nearly 200 years before the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest example. The OED partners with Zooniverse and the Folger Shakespeare Library to bring you Shakespeare’s World. @Mutabilitie’s important discovery has now been added to the dictionary, which not only provides definitions and etymologies, but examples of word usage going back as far in time as the editors and research staff are able to find examples. The ‘white lie’ discovery has been cited in a few New Yorker articles, including a recent piece of political commentary. Join Shakespeare’s World to help us better understand the development of the English language, by transcribing early recipes, letters, and more. Transcribers gain free access to the dictionary by taking part!

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