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 had occasion to repeat what he had said during the campaign. When asked that day whether the Government was condoning slavery of Chinese labourers in the Transvaal, Churchill replied:
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, as to accuse another member in the House of Commons of lying is considered unparliamentary.
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- 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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