Definition of blackmail in US English:



  • 1The action, treated as a criminal offense, of demanding money from a person in return for not revealing compromising or injurious information about that person.

    ‘they were acquitted of charges of blackmail’
    • ‘A 23-year-old man branded the UK's worst spammer has been jailed for six years for a string of offences including blackmail and threatening to kill.’
    • ‘Access to highly personal information may also play a role in crimes like bribery and blackmail, and involve individuals both within and outside of government offices.’
    • ‘As well as being able to impose military discipline on members, the organisation can raise millions of pounds through robberies, smuggling, extortion, blackmail.’
    • ‘In the ensuing litigation, this was portrayed as blackmail - a serious offence that has a maximum prison term of 14 years.’
    • ‘Had he videotaped their escapades with threats of blackmail?’
    • ‘Charges of blackmail peaked in the inter-war decades of the 1920s and 1930s and have been declining since.’
    • ‘Soon he finds himself caught up in a web of blackmail, corruption, and multiple murders, which start piling up in rapid succession.’
    • ‘Other charges for blackmail, witness intimidation and perverting the course of justice were dropped earlier this year.’
    • ‘He was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison in 1991 for blackmail, robbery and illegal possession of fire arms.’
    • ‘I do not trust people to make sound judgments, to take care of the information of others or to be beyond blackmail, corruption or plain greed.’
    • ‘The opportunities for police bargaining, threats, blackmail, and coercion to become an informer are unlimited.’
    • ‘Detectives called at her home the same day and she was charged with blackmail following a police inquiry.’
    • ‘Police treated the approach as blackmail and brought charges against him last October.’
    • ‘Extortion, blackmail and protection money are part of the daily life of the slums.’
    • ‘I refer to a judge who's put himself at grave risk of blackmail, entrapment, compromise and hypocrisy.’
    • ‘He could use bribery, blackmail, and other forms of coercion to keep his dishonored promises in circulation.’
    • ‘It was a stupid thing to say considering the threat of blackmail right there in front of me.’
    • ‘The two accused appeared in court yesterday on charges of kidnapping, robbery and blackmail.’
    • ‘The offence of blackmail broadens the current offence of extortion by certain threats.’
    • ‘It is, after all, free information usable for blackmail, theft or provoking a crippling system breakdown.’
    extortion, demanding money with menaces, exaction, intimidation
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    1. 1.1 Money demanded from a person in return for not revealing injurious information.
      ‘we do not pay blackmail’
      • ‘Denying the second payment was blackmail, he said their meeting wasn't a big deal or boxing match, but an easy deal.’
      • ‘He had to do a very public confession, because it was shown that he was paying blackmail.’
      • ‘He had in fact suggested several times that it might be necessary to pay blackmail to silence the burglars who broke into party headquarters.’
      • ‘He was embezzling in order to pay blackmail over a fight he was involved in, in which a person died.’
      • ‘A pox doctor's clerk knew all the personal details of the patients, so he had ample opportunities to supplement his income by blackmail.’
      demanding money with menaces, exaction, extraction
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    2. 1.2 The use of threats or the manipulation of someone's feelings to force them to do something.
      ‘out of fear, she submitted to Jim's emotional blackmail’
      ‘they are trying to blackmail us with hunger’
      • ‘Five years on, her husband is facing a charge for assault - the culmination of a marriage which descended into emotional blackmail, abuse and violence.’
      • ‘Italy's foreign minister described that demand as terrorist blackmail.’
      • ‘I make statements that I know are deeply hurtful and unfair and essentially commit emotional blackmail.’
      • ‘Could it be that folks are wising up to this kind of calculated emotional blackmail?’
      • ‘The country may continue to be a safe haven for terrorists and use it as bargaining leverage to extract further concessions from us through continuous blackmail.’
      • ‘Nobody wants the horrific slaughterhouse of war or the unbridled blackmail of terrorism but nobody wants to see evil flourish either.’
      • ‘There's a tightrope to walk between honesty and hysteria, emotional blackness and emotional blackmail.’
      • ‘Subsequently peer pressure and blackmail of friendship are often major contributing pull factors.’
      • ‘I hope voters everywhere will treat this blackmail with the contempt it deserves.’
      • ‘Many of us are convinced that the dictator will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon and subject any nation to nuclear blackmail.’
      • ‘Some of the man-bashing and emotional blackmail seems a bit of a cop out when sections of the production are effectively dramatic and poetically lyrical.’
      • ‘There was nothing he could do to stop her, except for using the emotional blackmail which she seemed to have become so good at.’
      • ‘Another topic whose exposure might be threatened is the dictator's use of oil blackmail and bribery in influencing a wide variety of nations.’
      • ‘In other words, we can't afford to properly police copyright laws so we'll try and use emotional blackmail to keep people in line.’
      • ‘I have enough of my own guilt, without this emotional blackmail!’
      • ‘In cases of forced marriage the force can be emotional blackmail or other forms of psychological pressure.’
      • ‘They accuse the hedge funds of blackmail - holding out and refusing to agree to a deal until they secure a larger payout for themselves - at the expense of other creditors.’
      • ‘Unwilling girls might be subjected to threats, ranging from physical violence and being locked up, to subtle emotional blackmail.’
      • ‘Clear-sightedness is only possible when one is not distracted by jargon, and psycho-babble or intimidated by emotional blackmail.’
      • ‘It's all a matter of good, solid business practice; a matter of turning a spiritual profit and of responding prudently to spiritual blackmail.’


[with object]
  • 1Demand money from (a person) in return for not revealing compromising or injurious information about that person.

    ‘trying to blackmail him for $400,000’
    • ‘Historically the clan made a living stealing cattle and blackmailing people.’
    • ‘Mother wouldn't hesitate to blackmail someone for money.’
    • ‘This piece of information isn't enough to blackmail him.’
    • ‘One aggressive addict blackmailed him and threatened to harm his daughter, who was away at university.’
    • ‘He was looking for information he might blackmail me with; he knows who I am, who my father is.’
    • ‘I trudged to my room, all the way muttering about how she would blackmail me with this little bit of information.’
    • ‘She's using her police connections to blackmail money out of me.’
    • ‘He used his Mafia links to blackmail politicians and build his influence.’
    • ‘She was blackmailing people for money, but I didn't find any names or any dirty information, just that.’
    • ‘Frank frowned at him and growled slightly, ‘Are you trying to blackmail me, assassin?’’
    • ‘Needless to say, if I ever wanted to make some quick money and blackmail someone, he would be the guy.’
    • ‘I really don't know why, but I every once in a while I got hold of information I could use to blackmail people.’
    • ‘Taking the witness stand at the trial of the photographer who she claims tried to blackmail her, Diaz revealed that she thinks that she looked good.’
    • ‘When the murder victim discovered the affair, he began blackmailing her, thus giving him motivation for carrying out the murder.’
    • ‘That being said, know that if you ever try to blackmail me with this information, I will take you to the Tower myself.’
    • ‘It just seemed like they wanted information, and it turned out that blackmailing a student was the easiest way to go about it.’
    • ‘I grilled him until we reached the border, and learned an amazing amount of information that would be useful if I ever wanted to blackmail him.’
    • ‘If you're being blackmailed by someone, turning around and blackmailing him back is just as illegal as the first crime.’
    • ‘Other gangs have resorted to blackmailing doctors monthly in return for their personal safety.’
    • ‘Once the hackers gain access to systems they download proprietary information, customer databases, and credit card information before trying to blackmail victims.’
    extort money from, threaten, hold to ransom, milk, bleed
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    1. 1.1 Force (someone) to do something by using threats or manipulating their feelings.
      ‘he had blackmailed her into sailing with him’
      • ‘The liberals use this fact to blackmail him, trying to force him to vote for their candidate.’
      • ‘Maybe I could blackmail her into letting me listen to it by threatening to inform the world of her favourite film.’
      • ‘Speakers stressed the difference between the healthy tradition of arranged marriage, where the couple genuinely consent, and forced marriage, where they are threatened or blackmailed by their families.’
      • ‘Of course, it is wrong to nag, pressurise, coax, cajole or emotionally blackmail one's offspring into providing grandchildren.’
      • ‘We've been blackmailed with this threat for years.’
      • ‘We are blackmailed into believing the money is needed for education and the elderly, but every year we pay more and receive less.’
      • ‘Do you think any politician would be willing to admit ‘Yes, I was threatened and blackmailed into supporting government policy that I didn't agree with’?’
      • ‘In order to manipulate and blackmail his boss, Jack beats himself up by making it appear that his boss was responsible.’
      • ‘Now, the unions have taken over the role of blackmailing the work force.’
      • ‘But he's still our guardians and… he also has control over your medical treatment… he'll threaten me, blackmail me.’
      • ‘If they are aware of their rights, they are either coerced or emotionally blackmailed into giving up their share in the interest of maintaining harmonious relations with their families.’
      • ‘But he urged the company to stand firm so potential investors knew employers ‘will not be blackmailed by irresponsible threats from unions’.’
      • ‘Mindy informed her friend that she could remember everything and attempted to blackmail her into leaving John.’
      • ‘He continued to avoid answering my question of how he had been blackmailed into going to Italy, and our communications were more letters between friends than anything else.’
      • ‘I'm not threatening you or blackmailing you with friendship so that you vote my way.’
      • ‘It is unethical to effectively blackmail a player into giving up his rights with the threat of removal from the team.’
      • ‘He used the children to blackmail me; he threatened to take them away from me.’
      • ‘Because once you allow your nation to be blackmailed by the threat of force, you're doomed.’
      • ‘Everywhere, workforces are played off against one another and blackmailed into making concessions with the threat that production will be moved.’
      • ‘I didn't see any indication that anyone was being threatened or blackmailed or otherwise induced against their will into serving in this capacity.’
      coerce, pressurize, pressure, bring pressure to bear on, bulldoze, force, railroad
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Mid 16th century (denoting protection money levied by Scottish chiefs): from black + obsolete mail ‘tribute, rent’, from Old Norse mál ‘speech, agreement’.