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(little) white lie
A lie thought to be insignificant and justified, especially one told to avoid hurting someone's feelings or giving offense. I try to be honest most of the time, but I do tell white lies when I'm worried about upsetting people. A: "Do you actually like her new haircut?" B: "Of course not, but I couldn't tell her that, so I told a little white lie instead."
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
An untruth told to spare feelings or from politeness, as in She asked if I liked her dress, and of course I told a white lie. This term uses white in the sense of "harmless." [First half of 1700s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
white lie, a
A fib told out of politeness, to spare feelings, or for a similar reason. The term is intended to distinguish between such a fib and a black lie, considered heinous dishonesty. A 1741 issue of Gentleman’s Magazine stated, “A certain Lady of the highest Quality . . . made a judicious distinction between a white Lie and a black Lie. A white Lie is That which is not intended to injure any Body in his Fortune, Interest, or Reputation, but only to gratify a garrulous Disposition, and the Itch of amusing People by telling them wonderful Stories.” However, warned William Paley in Moral Philosophy (1785), “White lies always introduce others of a darker complexion.”
See also: white
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer