[ lahy-buhl ]
See synonyms for: libellibeling on

  1. Law.

    • defamation by written, printed, or broadcast words or pictures: Intentionally or knowingly posting content that constitutes libel is prohibited.: Compare slander (def. 3).

    • the act or crime of publishing or broadcasting a defamatory statement:The author was convicted of libel and sentenced to a yearlong jail term.

    • a formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge.

  2. anything that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents: He blames me for his getting kicked out of school, so he spread this libel against me in revenge.

verb (used with object),li·beled, li·bel·ing or (especially British) li·belled, li·bel·ling.
  1. to publish or broadcast a libel against: The journalist received a suspended three-year prison sentence for allegedly libeling the president in an online article.

  2. to misrepresent damagingly: So it's just fine to smear and libel the writer, but it's not okay to call someone out for doing so?

  1. to institute suit against by a libel, as in an admiralty court.

Origin of libel

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English: “little book, formal document, official statement,” from Latin libellus, diminutive of liber book; for formation, see castellum

confusables note For libel

See slander.

Other words from libel

  • in·ter·li·bel, verb (used with object), in·ter·li·beled, in·ter·li·bel·ing or (especially British) in·ter·li·belled, in·ter·li·bel·ling.
  • un·li·beled, adjective
  • un·li·belled, adjective

Words that may be confused with libel

Words Nearby libel Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use libel in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for libel


/ (ˈlaɪbəl) /

  1. law

    • the publication of defamatory matter in permanent form, as by a written or printed statement, picture, etc

    • the act of publishing such matter

  2. any defamatory or unflattering representation or statement

  1. ecclesiastical law a claimant's written statement of claim

  2. Scots law the formal statement of a charge

verb-bels, -belling or -belled or US -bels, -beling or -beled (tr)
  1. law to make or publish a defamatory statement or representation about (a person)

  2. to misrepresent injuriously

  1. ecclesiastical law to bring an action against (a person) in the ecclesiastical courts

Origin of libel

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

Derived forms of libel

  • libeller or libelist, noun
  • libellous or libelous, adjective

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

Cultural definitions for libel


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 (see also First Amendment).

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