Picture Credit: “The Defamation Act 2013: Complete and Unabridged” by robertsharp is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What do these two words mean, and are they interchangeable? Since both are types of defamation (that is “the act of making negative statements that hurt another person’s reputation,” and also illegal), you’ll want to make sure you know the difference.

First of all, what is a defamatory statement?

A defamatory statement is something factually incorrect being presented as the truth. A statement becomes defamatory when it is distributed to another party, whether through mass publishing or one-on-one interaction.

Defamation is the oral or written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation and usually constitutes a tort or crime.

Defamation of character happens when something untrue and damaging is presented as a fact to someone else. But making the statement only to the person the statement is about (“Martin, you’re a thief”) is not defamation because it does not damage that person’s character in anyone else’s eyes.

Defamatory is first recorded in English around 1275–1325 and is ultimately derived from the Latin word diffāmāre (“to spread the news of”). 

What is libel?

Libel is written, published, or broadcast defamation. 

Defamatory statements made in newspapers, magazines, and blogs are considered libel. So are defamatory things said on TV or radio shows. Libel laws apply to both small- and large-scale publications. 

Libel, which is attested by 1250–1300, is derived from the Latin word libellus, which is the diminutive of liber (“book”).

What is slander?

Slander describes spoken defamatory statements. The term applies to in-person interactions, like standing inside a restaurant and shouting false accusations about its sanitary conditions. Slander is harder to prove. 

Slander is:

  • accusing someone of a crime they did not commit, spreading a rumour about an untrue affair, and claiming someone has false credentials.

Slander dates back to and stems from the Middle English word sclaundren (“to cause to lapse morally, bring to disgrace, discredit, defame”).

Excerpted from https://www.dictionary.com/e/libel-vs-slander/

Martin Pollins
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