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[blak-meyl] /ˈblækˌmeɪl/
any payment extorted by intimidation, as by threats of injurious revelations or accusations.
the extortion of such payment:
He confessed rather than suffer the dishonor of blackmail.
a tribute formerly exacted in the north of England and in Scotland by freebooting chiefs for protection from pillage.
verb (used with object)
to extort money from (a person) by the use of threats.
to force or coerce into a particular action, statement, etc.:
The strikers claimed they were blackmailed into signing the new contract.
Origin of blackmail
First recorded in 1545-55; black + mail3
Related forms
blackmailer, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for blackmail
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She had been convicted of blackmail, and she made no pretense even of innocence.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • If it's blackmail, Mr. Irwin, why don't you consult the police?

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • Ida has gone to warn her now in case she tries to blackmail you.

    People of Position Stanley Portal Hyatt
  • But there's no blackmail when you only take what belongs to you.

    The Vagrant Duke George Gibbs
  • But it shouldn't be blackmail, if silence is the price of getting what really belongs to you.

    The Vagrant Duke George Gibbs
British Dictionary definitions for blackmail


the act of attempting to obtain money by intimidation, as by threats to disclose discreditable information
the exertion of pressure or threats, esp unfairly, in an attempt to influence someone's actions
verb (transitive)
to exact or attempt to exact (money or anything of value) from (a person) by threats or intimidation; extort
to attempt to influence the actions of (a person), esp by unfair pressure or threats
Derived Forms
blackmailer, noun
Word Origin
C16: see black, mail³
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for blackmail

1550s, from black (adj.) + Middle English male "rent, tribute," from Old English mal "lawsuit, terms, bargaining, agreement," from Old Norse mal "speech, agreement;" related to Old English mæðel "meeting, council," mæl "speech," Gothic maþl "meeting place," from Proto-Germanic *mathla-, from PIE *mod- "to meet, assemble" (see meet (v.)). From the practice of freebooting clan chieftains who ran protection rackets against Scottish farmers. Black from the evil of the practice. Expanded c.1826 to any type of extortion money. Cf. silver mail "rent paid in money" (1590s); buttock-mail (Scottish, 1530s) "fine imposed for fornication."


1852, from blackmail (n.). Related: Blackmailed; blackmailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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