On April 10, 1567, Englishman Ralph Adderly wrote a letter to soldier and politician Sir Nicholas Bagnall. In it, Adderly described his brother-in-law John Bagot in an almost flattering way. The original excerpt is in pre-uniform English spelling, but translated to meet a more modern reader’s expectations it says this:
“I do assure you he is unsuspected of any untruth or other notable crime (except a white lie) which is taken for a small fault in these parts.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is the first known reference to the phrase “white lie,” largely held to be a lie that’s not so bad—one that is told in order to avoid conflict, forestall embarrassment, or to protect the recipient, and is more or less benign in nature.
Of course, one man’s bent truth is another man’s vicious load of . . . well, you get the idea. Still, most of us have probably told the occasional white lie when the plain old truth might be needlessly hurtful or when we’re writing a blog post and our research has been somewhat less than thorough because man has it been a week.
I mean, I would never do such a thing, but I assume a lot of you probably have.
I know that the students and faculty of my youngest son’s high school have done so. It’s homecoming week here which means this coming weekend will be packed with football, parading, and dancing. The weekdays, too, have been filled with powderpuff football, pep rallies bursting with team spirit, and themed dress-up days.
My favorite so far has been “white shirt/white lies day.” On this day, students and teachers wore white tee shirts on which they had written a white lie. Some of the shirts I saw included: “I’m a people person,” “I’ll pay you back,” “I’m not smarter than you,” “I don’t seek validation,” and my personal favorite, “Just because I’m blonde doesn’t mean I’m dumb.”
I’m not entirely sure that the school should be promoting lying of any kind, just as I am entirely certain that some parent will be complaining about it at the next schoolboard meeting. It won’t be me, because I thought it was awfully clever, and in a way, kind of perfect for this particular school’s homecoming celebration.
The notion of homecoming at my son’s school is itself a little bit of a white lie, as this is only the school’s second year in existence and the first year there will be a graduating class. What this means is that technically speaking, there is literally no one to come home to this school.
But every high school has homecoming football and pep rallies and dances and parades and spirit days. It’s too much fall fun to miss. So, what if it’s all a little bit of a lie? It’s not hurting anyone, and the decision to do all the homecoming things for the benefit of all the nonexistent alumni avoids the conflict that would arise from not doing it, which would also surely find its way to the next schoolboard meeting.
In the wise words of some guy named Ralph Adderly, it seems like nothing more than a small fault in these parts.