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libel

[ lahy-buhl ]
/ ˈlaɪ bəl /
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noun

Law.
  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), li·beled, li·bel·ing or (especially British) li·belled, li·bel·ling.

to publish a libel against.
to misrepresent damagingly.
to institute suit against by a libel, as in an admiralty court.

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QUIZ YOURSELF ON “THEIR,” “THERE,” AND “THEY’RE”

Are you aware how often people swap around “their,” “there,” and “they’re”? Prove you have more than a fair grasp over these commonly confused words.
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Which one of these commonly confused words can act as an adverb or a pronoun?

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

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, adjectiveun·li·belled, adjective

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH libel

1. liable, libel 2. defamation, libel , slander3. defame, libel , slander
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

LIBEL VS. SLANDER

What's the difference between libel and slander?

Libel and slander are both forms of defamation—the act of attacking someone’s character or reputation, especially by making false statements about them. The difference is that such statements are considered slander when they are simply spoken in the presence of other people, whereas they are considered libel when they are published or broadcast in some way, such as being written in an article, spoken on TV, or printed on a sign that’s posted in a public place.

Both words can also be used as verbs meaning to defame someone in such a way. In a legal context, libel and slander can both be considered crimes. For an action to be considered libel or slander, it must be proven to have done some damage to a person’s reputation. Slander is often much harder to prove because it involves simply saying something, whereas libel often involves a permanent record of the statement.

You can remember the difference by thinking about the first letter of each word: slander typically involves speaking, while libel typically involves a lasting document of what was said.

Here’s an example of libel and slander used correctly in a sentence.

Example: The court determined that the defendant’s statements constituted slander, but did not rise to the level of libel since they were not published or broadcast. 

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between libel and slander.

Quiz yourself on libel vs. slander!

Should libel or slander be used in the following sentence?

The magazine was sued for _____ after printing false accusations.

Example sentences from the Web for libel

British Dictionary definitions for libel

libel
/ (ˈlaɪbəl) /

noun

law
  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 -bels, -belling or -belled or US -bels, -beling or -beled (tr)

Derived forms of libel

libeller or libelist, nounlibellous or libelous, adjective

Word Origin for 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
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

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.
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