[lahy-buh l]


  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.

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 formsin·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
Can be confusedliable libeldefamation libel slanderdefame libel slander Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for libeling

Contemporary Examples of libeling

  • Bob Grenier sued Alex in 2012, accusing him of mounting “cyber-bully hate campaign” and libeling him on the Internet.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Calvary Chapel’s Tangled Web

    David Sessions

    January 27, 2013

Historical Examples of libeling

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

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 Formslibeller 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

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

libeling in Culture


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.