Loose lips sink ships

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World War II poster by Seymour R. Goff. This was the first poster to use some variation of the phrase. It was published by the Seagram Distillers Corporation for posting in bars.[1][2]

Loose lips sink ships is an American English idiom meaning "beware of unguarded talk". The phrase originated on propaganda posters during World War II.[3] The phrase was created by the War Advertising Council[4] and used on posters by the United States Office of War Information.[3]

This type of poster was part of a general campaign of American propaganda during World War II to advise servicemen and other citizens to avoid careless talk that might undermine the war effort. There were many similar such slogans, but "Loose lips sink ships" remained in the American idiom for the remainder of the century and into the next, usually as an admonition to avoid careless talk in general.[5][6][7] (The British equivalent used "Careless Talk Costs Lives", and variations on the phrase "Keep mum",[8] while in neutral Sweden the State Information Board promoted the wordplay "en svensk tiger" ("a Swedish tiger" or "a Swede keeps silent": the Swedish word "tiger" means both "tiger" and "keeping silent"), and Germany used "Schäm Dich, Schwätzer!" (English: "Shame on you, blabbermouth!").[9]

However, propaganda experts at the time and historians since have argued the main goal of these and similar posters was to actually frighten people into not spreading rumors – or truths – containing bad news that might hurt morale or create tension between groups of Americans, since the Federal Bureau of Investigation (in charge of dealing with enemy spies) had rounded up the key agents in June 1941, so that the nation "entered the war with confidence that there was no major German espionage network hidden in U.S. society."[10] From the White House's perspective, the FBI had succeeded in virtually ending the German espionage threat. Historian Joseph E. Persico says it "practically shut down German espionage in the United States overnight."[11]

Historian D'Ann Campbell argues that the purpose of the wartime posters, propaganda, and censorship of soldiers' letters was not to foil spies but "to clamp as tight a lid as possible on rumors that might lead to discouragement, frustration, strikes, or anything that would cut back military production."[12][13][14]


  1. ^ "World War II 'Loose Lips' Poster (product description)". Olive Drav. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  2. ^ "Hadley Digital Archive "Loose Lips Might Sink Ships"". Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Loose lips sink ships". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
  4. ^ "Security of War Information - Loose Lips Sink Ships (1942-1945)". Ad Council. Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  5. ^ "Idiom: Loose lips sink ships". Using English. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
  6. ^ "Loose lips sink ships". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
  7. ^ "Loose lips sink ships – Anti Espionage Posters from WWII". www.successfullearningcommunities.com. Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  8. ^ ""Keep mum – she's not so dumb" - Charcoal, gouache, ink & pastel on board". British National Archives. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
  9. ^ "Schäm Dich, Schwätzer! Feind hört mit-Schweigen ist..." The Memory of the Netherlands. Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Retrieved March 24, 2014.(in Dutch)
  10. ^ Robert S. Mueller; John J. Miller; Michael P. Kortan (2008). The FBI: A Centennial History, 1908-2008. Government Printing Office. p. 44.
  11. ^ Joseph E. Persico (2002). Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage. Random House. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-375-76126-3.
  12. ^ D'Ann Campbell, Women at War with America: Private Lives in a Patriotic Era (1984) p 71.
  13. ^ Chip Heath; Dan Heath (2007). Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Random House. p. 281.
  14. ^ J. Douglas Smith; Richard J. Jensen (2003). World War II on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites. Scholarly Resources. p. 95.

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