Definition of libel in English:



  • 1Law
    A published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation.

    Compare with slander
    • ‘A newcomer to the newsroom with no background in what constitutes libel is a time bomb waiting to go off.’
    • ‘As Robertson circulated his pamphlet where he could, the matter was a serious libel.’
    • ‘A statement that a police officer is under is investigation is no doubt defamatory, but the sting in the libel is not as sharp as the statement that he has by his conduct brought suspicion on himself.’
    • ‘Despite the recommendations of the Faulks Committee, the law of defamation still distinguishes between libel and slander.’
    • ‘The extent of publication is also very relevant: a libel published to millions has a greater potential to cause damage than a libel published to a handful of people.’
    defamation, defamation of character, character assassination, calumny, misrepresentation, scandalmongering
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 The action or crime of publishing a false statement about a person.
      as modifier ‘a libel action’
      ‘a councilor who sued two national newspapers for libel’
      • ‘Britain's libel laws are almost the opposite of those in the United States.’
      • ‘During the 1790s Pitt frequently resorted to seditious libel as a blunt instrument against the reform movement.’
      • ‘The libel action deals with events surrounding the closure of Irish Press newspapers in 1995.’
      • ‘A third common law offence which may involve strict liability is that of blasphemous libel.’
      • ‘Ironically, the action is over a short story concerning a previous libel action.’
    2. 1.2 A false and typically malicious statement about a person.
      • ‘You have therefore published outrageous libels against our client directly to persons whose opinion of our client is critical to their professional reputation and standing.’
    3. 1.3 A thing or circumstance that brings undeserved discredit on a person by misrepresentation.
      • ‘Maybe we could better ourselves by reaching out to others - and help kill a poisonous libel at the same time.’
      • ‘Before classicism can again occupy a central place in our lives, a monstrous libel must first be undone.’
  • 2(in admiralty and ecclesiastical law) a plaintiff's written declaration.

    • ‘The libel laws as they stand militate against doing this, because once a libel writ is issued by a complainant any apology is an admission of liability.’


  • 1Law
    Defame (someone) by publishing a libel.

    ‘she alleged the magazine had libeled her’
    • ‘That doesn't mean that it is OK to slander and libel people.’
    • ‘A judge at Cork Circuit Cork yesterday ruled that he was libelled by only two newspapers, and awarded him damages of £5,600.’
    • ‘Browne has viciously slandered and libeled me, in the public media, repeatedly.’
    • ‘Gilligan's lawyer wrote to the film production company, seeking to ensure that he was not libelled.’
    • ‘Richardson claims she was libeled and her reputation as a professional interviewer has been irrevocably damaged.’
    defame, malign, slander, give someone a bad name, blacken someone's name, sully someone's reputation, speak evil of, speak ill of, write false reports about, traduce, smear, cast aspersions on, fling mud at, drag someone's name through the mire, drag someone's name through the mud, besmirch, tarnish, taint, do a hatchet job on, tell lies about, spread tales about, spread scandal about, stain, vilify, calumniate, denigrate, disparage, run down, derogate, stigmatize, discredit, slight
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Make a false and typically malicious statement about.
      • ‘One cannot say what one likes about people or institutions because one cannot libel anyone.’
      • ‘Good point, but a blog item that libels someone will remain on the record, likely archived for a good long time, and a libelous statement left online for even a day puts a blogger at tremendous risk.’
  • 2(in admiralty and ecclesiastical law) bring a suit against (someone)


Middle English (in the general sense ‘a document, a written statement’): via Old French from Latin libellus, diminutive of liber ‘book’.