Churchill first used the phrase during the 1906 election. Following the election, speaking in the House of Commons on 22 February 1906 as Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office, he repeated what he had said during the campaign:
The conditions of the Transvaal ordinance ... cannot in the opinion of His Majesty's Government be classified as slavery; at least, that word in its full sense could not be applied without a risk of terminological inexactitude.
It seems this first usage was strictly literal, merely a roundabout way of referring to inexact or inaccurate terminology. But it was soon interpreted or taken up as a euphemism for an outright lie. To accuse another member in the House of lying is unparliamentary, so a way of implying that without saying it was very useful.
- The Outlook, Volume 17 retrieved 28 January 2012
- Rees, Nigel (ed.) (1984). Sayings of the Century. London : Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0048080489
- Plato, The Laws (ca. 350 BC) Book 9
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