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[lahy-buh l] /ˈlaɪ bəl/
  1. defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.
  2. the act or crime of publishing it.
  3. a formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge.
anything that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents.
verb (used with object), libeled, libeling or (especially British) libelled, libelling.
to publish a libel against.
to misrepresent damagingly.
to institute suit against by a libel, as in an admiralty court.
Origin of libel
1250-1300; Middle English: little book, formal document, especially plaintiff's statement < Latin libellus, diminutive of liber book; for formation, see castellum
Related forms
interlibel, verb (used with object), interlibeled, interlibeling or (especially British) interlibelled, interlibelling.
unlibeled, adjective
unlibelled, adjective
Can be confused
liable, libel.
defamation, libel, slander.
defame, libel, slander.

libel tourism

the act of suing a writer for alleged defamation in a foreign jurisdiction where there are weak libel laws.
Word story
The term libel tourism was coined somewhat cynically to describe taking advantage of the legal system of a foreign country where it is easier for you to file a libel lawsuit against a writer or journalist for publishing serious criticisms of or accusations against you. The United Kingdom, for example, has been a favorite venue for a so-called libel tourist to sue for libel, because traditionally under British law the burden of proof rests with the defendant (the accused author and/or publisher), who must establish to the satisfaction of both judge and jury that the published statements in dispute are not defamatory. This contrasts sharply with U.S. law in which it is the plaintiff (the person filing the suit) who must establish not only that a critical statement made about him or her is untrue, but also that it was published with a reckless intent to do harm. After several high-profile libel suits filed in the U.K. against U.S. authors resulted in judgments against the authors—lawsuits that, in the opinion of many jurists, probably would not have held up in a U.S. court of law—Congress in 2010 passed the SPEECH (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage) Act. The title of the act speaks volumes: foreign libel judgments are no longer enforceable in the U.S. unless they meet the same high legal standards in libel matters as required by U.S. law, including that they do not violate the First Amendment right of free speech of an American author. Thus the tourist must return home.

libel tourist

someone who engages in libel tourism.

blood libel

the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals:
blood libels that spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.
Also called blood accusation. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for libel


  1. the publication of defamatory matter in permanent form, as by a written or printed statement, picture, etc
  2. the act of publishing such matter
any defamatory or unflattering representation or statement
(ecclesiastical law) a claimant's written statement of claim
(Scots law) the formal statement of a charge
verb (transitive) -bels, -belling, -belled (US) -bels, -beling, -beled
(law) to make or publish a defamatory statement or representation about (a person)
to misrepresent injuriously
(ecclesiastical law) to bring an action against (a person) in the ecclesiastical courts
Derived Forms
libeller, libelist, noun
libellous, libelous, adjective
Word Origin
C13 (in the sense: written statement), hence C14 legal sense: a plaintiff's statement, via Old French from Latin libellus a little book, from liber a book
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 libel

c.1300, "formal written statement," especially, in civil law, "plaintiff's statement of charges" (mid-14c.); from Old French libelle (fem.) "small book; (legal) charge, claim; writ; written report" (13c.), from Latin libellus "a little book, pamphlet; petition, written accusation, complaint," diminutive of liber "book" (see library). Broader sense of "any published or written statement likely to harm a person's reputation" is first attested 1630s.


mid-15c., "make an initial statement setting out a plaintiff's case" (modern sense from 1560s), from libel (n.), q.v. for sense development. Related: Libeled; libelled; libeling; libelling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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libel in Culture

libel definition

A written, printed, or pictorial statement that unjustly defames someone publicly. Prosecution of libel as a punishable offense puts some measure of restriction on freedom of the press under the First Amendment.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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