Words We Use

These messages show how words or phrases in common had beginnings that are often surprising.

    • White Lies

      The earliest time when the term white lies was used was in 1741 in a British publication. The article described the difference between what was considered black lies and white lies. Black lies were thought to be malicious while white lies were akin to fibs with no...

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    • Fictitious Names

      Landowners in the 14th Century had a problem. They needed to establish ownership of properties they owned. If they brought legal actions against squatters and tenants who had defaulted on their leases, the disputes often became enmeshed in detail that would complicate...

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    • Smart Alec

      Alec Hoag and his wife, Melinda, ran a scam in New York City during the 1840s. His wife would pose as a prostitute and lure men into an alley. She would pick their pockets and place what she had stolen where Alec could get it while Melinda distracted the men. When the...

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    • Women and Children First

      The HMS Birkenhead was one of the first ships to use both steam power and sails. In January of 1852, the Birkenhead left England with 634 men, women, and children on board. The destination was South Africa. The men were troops sent to battle in what was called the...

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    • Gaslight

      Gregory has engaged in a campaign to convince his wife, Paula, she is mentally ill. He wants her money, and getting her committed to a mental institution will accomplish his goal. Their home is illuminated by gas light, and Gregory arranges to have the lights flicker...

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