How to Use Libel vs. Slander Correctly

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It's easy for students to confuse the terms libel and slander. While both words are rooted in the realm of the law, a simple distinction sets them apart. Once you know it, you can use the terms correctly in speech and writing.

Libel Defined

  • Libel occurs when a false, defamatory statement occurs in print, most often in newspapers or magazines. Libelous statement also can be contained in other printed forums, such as advertisements or posters. For example, a reporter who writes an inaccurate article about a local politician stating that he “often drives in a drunken manner” sets himself up for a libel lawsuit, because the untrue charge also could damage the reputation of the politician by suggesting that he is irresponsible and legally negligent. In this example, you would use “libel” correctly in a sentence by saying, “Alderman Robert Burke is suing 'The Daily Talk' and reporter Willy Slick for libel following the publication of a story that Burke says is 'as wrong as it is damaging.' ”

Slander Defined

  • Slander occurs when someone makes a false, defamatory assertion about someone else. Slander is a spoken statement, which differentiates it from libel -- a written infraction. If reporter Willy Slick told eight colleagues that Alderman Burke “often drives in a drunken manner” -- and Burke could supply these witnesses to testify on his behalf, since he wasn't present when the assertions were made -- Burke could sue Slick for slander. In this case, you would use “slander” correctly in a sentence by saying, “Alderman Robert Burke is accusing 'The Daily Talk' reporter Willy Slick of slander and says he has eight eyewitnesses who heard Slick make the statement.”

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