'Slander' vs 'Libel': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 26, 2023

‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel’: What’s the difference? Have you ever watched a ton of cop shows and thought you knew everything about the law? Well, this article will put that to the test. This article will be just as much of a lesson in the law as it is a vocabulary lesson. For aspiring lawyers, this might get you your next high score on an exam. For writers and aspiring novelists, this will help you clear up the details of your work and ensure that you’re being as accurate as possible. 

In a hurry? Here’s a short overview of what you’ll learn:

  • ‘Slander’ is a false statement made to defame another person. 
  • ‘Libel’ is the action of publishing a false statement about another person. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel’?

As you may be able to tell from the preview, these words seem almost identical in definition both as nouns and verbs. But, when you’re learning the letter of the law, knowing the tiniest distinctions and minute details could mean the difference between winning and losing a case. So how do we know which word to choose

As the definitions show, both words refer to making a false statement. But the key difference here is how that statement is made. 

  • ‘Slander’ is a defamation that occurs orally or that is spoken. ‘Libel’ is defamation in a written form. 

Note that in many definitions, ‘Slander’ can occur in any medium that is not written—for example, a drawing, a video, or a song. Also, note that since writing itself can be considered an injury to another person, ‘Libel’ is easier to prove. 

To clear things up, let’s quickly review what defamation is:

  • Defamation is defined as the action of damaging the good reputation of someone.

So when someone defames another person, they are doing or saying something to corrupt their image, ruin their reputation, or question their character. 

One final important thing to note is that the terms ‘Slander’ and ‘Libel’ only apply to statements that are not true. The words, either written or spoken, have to be lies or rumors.

  • For example, if you say something horrible about someone, but that thing is a fact, the other person can’t call it slander. 

Now that we’ve taken a look at the difference between ‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel,’ let’s take a deeper dive into their definitions. 

Definition of ‘Slander’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Slander’ is a law term that, as a noun, means: 

  • The action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation
    • “He is suing the TV network for slander.”
  • A false or malicious spoken statement
    • “I’ve had just about all I can stomach of your slanders.”

As a verb, ‘Slander’ can also mean: 

  • To make false or damaging statements about someone or a group
    • “They were accused of slandering the head of state.”

A useful tip to remembering that ‘Slander’ is specifically spoken is that both words begin with the letter ‘s.’ While this may seem silly, tools like this are often very helpful in a pinch. 

Synonym for ‘Slander’

  • Defamation
  • Disparagement
  • Misrepresentation
  • Backbiting
  • Detraction
  • Dirt
  • Muckraking

Antonyms of ‘Slander’

  • Approval 
  • Compliment
  • Praise
  • Nicety

Phrases with ‘Slander’

  • Get slandered
  • Slander their name
  • To be slandered
  • Sued for slander

Definition of ‘Libel’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Libel’ is a law term which, as a noun, means: 

  • A published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation
  • The action or crime of publishing a false statement about a person
    • “a libel action”
  • A thing or circumstance that brings undeserved discredit on a person by misrepresentation
  • (in admiralty and ecclesiastical law) a plaintiff’s written declaration

As a verb, the word ‘Libel’ can also mean: 

  • To defame someone by publishing a libel
    • “She alleged the magazine had libeled her.”
  • Make a false, typically malicious statement about
  • (in admiralty or ecclesiastical law) bring a suit against
    • “If a ship gives you any injuries, you libel the ship.” 

Note that these terms can have different meanings in admiralty and ecclesiastical law, so if you are dealing with either of those, be sure you are aware of the differences. 

Also, a hint for remembering that 'Libel' applies specifically to written defamation in knowing that the word originates from the Latin 'liber,' which means "book." This can help remind us that things must be written to be considered 'Libel' as opposed to recorded or spoken.

Synonyms for ‘Libel’

  • Defamation
  • Calumny
  • Aspersion
  • Denigration
  • Obloquy
  • To malign
  • To scorch
  • To derogate 

Antonyms of ‘Libel’

  • Compliment
  • Praise
  • Flatter
  • Honor
  • Laud

Phrases with ‘Libel’

  • Written libel 
  • Slander or libel
  • To be libeled
  • Sue for libel
  • Libel laws

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel’

The words of the law aren’t just written down. They often appear in court cases and other formal conversations. In these settings, the last thing you want is to pronounce these words incorrectly. Follow the guides below to ensure you properly pronounce ‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel.’ 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Slander’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Slaan-derr’ (the “a” is as wide as in ‘ran’ and the “e” acts as a segue to the “r”)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Libel’ as a guide: 

  • 'Ly-buhl’‘(with the “e” sounding more like a flat “uh” sound)

How to Use ‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel’ in a Sentence?

Knowing how words work in real-life circumstances can be the key to mastering them, especially with terms like this with very specific meanings and consequences within the law. Since ‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel’ rely so heavily on how the defamation is delivered, let’s look at some examples of the contexts in which these words may appear. 

‘Slander’ Example Sentences

  • He was going to sue the new outlet for slandering him on public television. 
  • Although she liked her outfit, she felt that her friends slandered her for the way she dressed. 
  • The politician had to learn to handle slander during her campaign because she knew that she had as many enemies as she did supporters. 
  • The lawyer was just as good at flattering the judge as he was slandering the other client. 

‘Libel’ Example Sentences

  • After publishing a nasty article about a new movie star, the newspaper was charged with libel
  • The pop star sued for libel after being defamed in song lyrics written by a famous rapper. 
  • Many people have started being charged for tweets on Twitter because they’re considered libel
  • She noticed her interviewer had published a libel statement. 

Final Advice on ‘Slander’ vs ‘Libel’ 

You may have watched every episode of Judge Judy, but digging into articles like this one is going to be the key to mastering language. When it comes to the law, you have to be very particular, and we hope to set you up with all the details necessary to keep your writing and speech formal and to the letter. 

Want a recap? Here’s a review of what was covered: 

  • ‘Slander’ is a malicious statement that is made orally,
  • Meanwhile, ‘Libel’ is a malicious statement that is written. 
  • Both ‘Slander’ and ‘Libel’ refer to rumors or false statements, so they are not the truth. 

Want to master more vocabulary terms? Be sure to read about other confusing words to ensure your writing is accurate and precise. Keep learning and paying attention to the intricate details, and nobody will be able to poke holes in your work.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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