The expression “the big lie” was popularized by Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf (1925), published in an abridged English edition in the fall of 1933 and in a more complete English translation in 1939. Hitler wrote that “in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily.”
“If you tell a lie, tell a big one,” however, has been cited in print since at least 1888. “If you tell a lie, tell a big one and stick to it” was said in 1892 to have been a “schoolboy maxim.” “If you must lie, tell a big one” was cited in print in 1919.
“Tell a Big Lie” is a breaker line that was published in an August 1934 newspaper description of the Nazi philosophy. Dr. James K. Pollock, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, further explained the Nazi philosophy:
“When you tell a lie, tell a big one. When you tell a little one they’re less likely to believe you. Tell a big one instead and keep on telling it until they believe you.”
Wikipedia: Big Lie
The Big Lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Hitler asserted the technique was used by Jews to unfairly blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German Army officer Erich Ludendorff.
Hitler’s use of the expression
The source of Big Lie technique is this passage, taken from Chapter 10 of James Murphy’s translation of Mein Kampf:
But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.
All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.
—Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X
(Oxford English Dictionary)
big lie n. [originally after German große Lüge (see quot. 1939)] (freq. with capital initials) (with the) a falsehood contrived on such a large scale that its magnitude and definiteness discourage dissent (typically one propagated by a totalitarian regime).
Originally associated with Nazi propaganda (see quots. 1939, 1948).
1939 J. Murphy tr. A. Hitler Mein Kampf I. x. 198 All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true in itself..that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility.
1948 News (San Francisco) 30 July 2/5 This is a continuation of the Nazi theory of the ‘big lie’, expounded by Hitler and Goebbels, that the bigger the lie and the more frequently it is told the more people who would accept it.
1951 in Amer. Speech 26 293/2 Gloomy Washington prophets are forecasting a period of ‘the big lie’, of the furtive informer… They lump the whole under the term McCarthyism.
21 December 1888, The Republic (St. Louis, MO), pg. 6, col. 6 ad:
Overcoats Worth $30 for $10
If You Tell a Lie Tell a Big One.
Our Satin-Line Chinchilla Overcoats for $10 are as well worth $30 as the Overcoats our competitors are advertising worth $30 for $14.
8 December 1892, Anaconda (MT) Standard, “London Papers,” pg. 1, col. 3:
The Chronicle says: “Harrison’s tariff remarks remind one of the schoolboy maxim: ‘If you tell a lie, tell a big one and stick to it.’”
8 August 1919, The Coconino Sun (Flagstaff, AZ), pg. 3, col. 2:
“If you must lie, tell a big one.”
21 August 1934, New Castle (PA) News, pg. 2, col. 3:
Tell a Big Lie
Describing the Nazi propagandists’ theory, Dr. Pollock explained that it is a simple one. “When you tell a lie, tell a big one. When you tell a little one they’re less likely to believe you. Tell a big one instead and keep on telling it until they believe you.”
He said that that theory is the basis of all Nazi undertakings.
(Dr. James K. Pollock, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan—ed.)
7 November 1941, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, “Convicts Browne, Bioff Speedily,” pg. 5, col. 3:
“I think it was Hitler who wrote that if one were going to tell a lie, tell a big one because you will find some gullible people who will believe it,” Correa told the jury in commenting on the defense. “Bioff took a page out of Hitler’s book.”
Google News Archive
27 April 1945, The Blade (Toledo, OH), “Truth About Redoubt Sought” by Capt. John H. Craige, pg. 18, col. 2:
Hitler, in “Mein Kampf,” said, “When you tell a lie, tell a big one.”
Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy
By Carl Joachim Friedrich and Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzeziński
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Another, at least partial, explanation of the passion for unanimity is the totalitarian belief in the big lie as a propaganda technique. Hitler, Goebbels, and others are on record as believing that if you have to tell a lie, tell a big one, and the mass of the people will be more ready to believe it because it appeals to their superstitiousness.
Sex in History
By Gordon Rattray Taylor
New York, NY: Vanguard Press
But in recent times we have seen demonstrated another principle: if you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one. And, just as in the case of the Nazis, the accusations tell us more about the accusers than the accused.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics • Thursday, January 03, 2013 • Permalink