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big lie

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noun
a false statement of outrageous magnitude employed as a propaganda measure in the belief that a lesser falsehood would not be credible.
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Origin of big lie

First recorded in 1945–50
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does big lie mean?

The term big lie refers to a false claim (especially a particularly outrageous one) that’s contrary to something that is firmly established or widely known to be true.

The term is also used as the name of a tactic (often called the big lie) that relies on the telling of a big lie for the purpose of propaganda—the spread of information to promote or support a particular agenda, especially a political one.

The term and the tactic are closely associated with Adolf Hitler and Nazi propaganda. In this context, the term is sometimes capitalized as Big Lie. 

A big lie is often one that can be easily disproved with even a small amount of effort or research. However, the outrageousness of the lie is part of how it works.

The theory behind the use of a big lie is that those who hear it are more likely to believe it (or less likely to question it) simply because it sounds so outrageous. In other words, a person who accepts a big lie as true probably does so because they think it would be absurd for those making the claim to be so bold as to tell a lie that’s so obviously false.

Telling a big lie often involves telling it repeatedly and shamelessly—with the attitude that it is not only true but obvious. A big lie allows the teller to use it to cover all kinds of “smaller” lies and justify wrongdoing in the context of the false reality that the big lie creates.

Example: When reality doesn’t suit their needs, some politicians use a big lie to create an alternative reality in which they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Where does big lie come from?

The first records of the term big lie in English come from around the 1940s. The term is thought to have first appeared in the English translation of Adolf Hitler’s 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf.

In the book, Hitler states his belief that the propaganda tactic he identifies as “the big lie” is effective because the common people are used to using and hearing small lies but not “large-scale falsehoods”—thus making it more likely that they will believe a big lie when they hear it. Hitler claims that this is true even when people are presented with contradictory evidence, because they tend to believe those in authority.

The passage in which he discusses the concept appears in the context of the book’s pervasive anti-Semitism. In a stunningly brazen (but representative) example of the use of a big lie, Hitler makes the obviously false claim that the concept of the big lie was invented and was being actively used by the Jews—the very people he was wielding it against.

The further use of such misinformation and propaganda tactics by Nazi Germany and its leaders (including Nazi propaganda director Joseph Goebbels) is well documented. Chief among the big lies spread by the Nazis were claims that Jews were to blame for Germany’s troubles, including its defeat in World War I and its subsequent economic devastation. In this way, the big lie helped Hitler and the Nazis to perpetrate the Holocaust. Holocaust denial—the claim that the Holocaust and the Nazis’ systematic murder of millions of people never actually occurred—is another example of a big lie.

Why is big lie trending?

The term gained widespread attention in early 2021 in the U.S., where it was used in criticisms of President Donald Trump’s false claims about widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Trump was defeated in the election by Joseph Biden but repeatedly claimed that the election had been “stolen,” despite no evidence supporting his claims. Biden himself used the term big lie in reference to the repetition of such false claims by Trump and many of his supporters.

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What are some other forms related to big lie?

  • Big Lie (alternate capitalized spelling)

What are some words that share a root or word element with big lie

What are some words that often get used in discussing big lie?

How is big lie used in real life?

The term big lie is typically used in the context of politics and propaganda. It’s especially associated with Hitler and the Nazi Party. For this reason, accusing someone of using the tactic is serious and often controversial.

 

How to use big lie in a sentence

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