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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. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for libeling


  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 libeling



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.



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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libeling 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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