Slander “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “slander” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:”




In modern usage, the speaking of base and defamatory words which tend to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business, or means of livelihood [33 Am J1st L & S § 3].

The term “slander” was formerly used as including both written and spoken defamation [Fenstermacher v. Indianapolis Times Pub. Co. 102 Ind App 189, 1 NE2d 655].


  1. The defaming a man in his reputation by speaking or writing words which affect his life, office, or trade, or which tend to his loss of preferment in marriage or service, or in his inheritance, or which occasion any other particular damage [Law of Nisi Prius, 3]. In England, if slander be spoken of a peer, or other great man, it is called Scandalum Magnatum. Falsity and malice are ingredients of slander [Bac. Abr. Slander]. Written or printed slanders are libels [see that word].
  2. Here it is proposed to treat of verbal slander only, which may be considered with reference to 1st, the nature of the accusation; 2nd, the falsity of the charge; 3rd, the mode of publication; 4th, the occasion; 5th, the malice or motive of the slander.
  3. 1. Actionable words are of two descriptions; first, those actionable in themselves, without proof of special damages and, secondly, those actionable only in respect of some actual consequential damages.
  4. 2. Words of the first description must impute: 1st, the guilt of some offence for which the party, if guilty, might be indicted and punished by the criminal courts; as to call a person a “traitor,” “thief,” “highwayman;” or to say that he is guilty of “perjury,” “forgery,” “murder,” and the like. And although the imputation of guilt to be general, without stating the particulars of the pretended crime, it is actionable [Cro. Jac. 114, 142; 6 T. R. 674; 3 Wils. 186; 2 Vent. 266; 2 New Rep. 335. See 3 Serg. & Rawle, 255 7 Serg. & Rawle, 451; 1 Binn. 452; 5 Binn. 218; 3 Serg. & Rawle, 261; 2 Binn. 34; 4 Yeates, 423; 10 Serg. & Rawle, 44; Stark. on Slander, 13 to 42; 8 Mass. 248; 13 Johns. 124; Id. 275].
  5. 2nd, that the party has a disease or distemper which renders him unfit for society [Bac. Abr. Slander B 2]. An action can therefore be sustained for calling a man a leper [Cro. Jac. 144 Stark. on Slander, 97]. But charging another with having had a contagious disease is not actionable, as he will not, on that account, be excluded from society [2 T. R. 473, 4; 2 Str. 1189; Bac. Abr. Tit. Slander, B 2]. A charge which renders a man ridiculous, and impairs the enjoyment of general society, and inures those imperfect rights of friendly intercourse and mutual benevolence which man has with respect to man, is also actionable [Holt on Libels, 221].
  6. 3rd, unfitness in an officer, who holds an office to which profit or emolument is attached, either in respect of morals or inability to discharge the duties of the office in such a case an action lies [1 Salk. 695, 698; Rolle, Ab. 65; 2 Esp. R. 500; 5 Co. 125; 4 Co. 16 a; 1 Str. 617; 2 Ld. Raym. 1369; Bull. N. P. 4; Holt on Libels, 207; Stark. on Slander, 100].
  7. 4th, the want of integrity or capacity, whether mental or pecuniary, in the conduct of a profession, trade or business, in which the party is engaged, is actionable [1 Mal. Entr. 244], as to accuse an attorney or artist of inability, inattention, or want of integrity [3 Wils. 187; 2 Bl. Rep. 750] or a clergyman of being drunkard [1 Binn. 178] is actionable [see Holt on Libels, 210; Id. 217].
  8. 2nd, of the second class are words which are actionable only in respect of special damages sustained by the party slandered. Though the law will not permit in these cases the inference of damage, yet when the damage has actually been sustained, the party aggrieved may support an action for the publication of an untruth [1 Lev. 53; 1 Sid. 79, 80; 3 Wood. 210; 2 Leon. 111] unless the assertion be made for the assertion of a supposed claim [Com. Dig. Tit]. Action upon the case for Defamation [D 30; Bac. Ab. Slander, B] but it lies if maliciously spoken [see 1 Rolle, Ab. 36 1 Saund. 243 Bac. Abr. Slander, C; 8 T. R. 130 8 East, R. 1; Stark. on Slander, 157].
  9. 2nd, the charge must be false [5 Co. 125, 6; Hob. 253] the falsity of the accusation is to be implied till the contrary is shown [2 East, R. 436; 1 Saund. 242]. The instance of a master making an unfavorable representation of his servant, upon an application for his character, seems to be an exception, in that case there being a presumption from the occasion of the speaking, that the words were true [1 T. R. 111; 3 B. & P. 587; Stark. on Slander, 44, 175, 223].
  10. 3rd, the slander must, of course, be published, that is, communicated to a third person; and if verbal, then in a language which he understands, otherwise the plaintiff’s reputation is not impaired [1 Rolle, Ab. 74; Cro. Eliz. 857; 1 Saund. 2425 n. 3; Bac. Abr. Slander, D 3]. A letter addressed to the party, containing libelous matter, is not sufficient to maintain a civil action, though it may subject the libeler to an indictment, as tending to a breach of the peace [2 Bl. R. 1038; 1 T. R. 110; 1 Saund. I32, n. 2; 4 Esp. N. P. R. 117; 2 Esp. N. P. R. 623; 2 East, R. 361]; the slander must be published respecting the plaintiff; a mother cannot maintain an action for calling her daughter a bastard [11 Serg & Rawle, 343; as to the case of a man who repeats the slander invented by another, see Stark. on Slander, 213; 2 P. A. Bro. R. 89; 3 Yeates, 508; 3 Binn. 546].
  11. 4th, to render words actionable, they must be uttered without legal occasion. On some occasions it is justifiable to utter slander of another, in others it is excusable, provided it be uttered without express malice [Bac. Ab. Slander, D 4; Rolle, Ab. 87; 1 Vin. Ab. 540]. It is justifiable for an attorney to use scandalizing expressions in support of his client’s cause and pertinent thereto [1 M. & S. 280; 1 Holt’s R. 531; 1 B. & A. 232; see 2 Serg. & Rawle, 469; 1 Binn. 178; 4 Yeates, 322; 1 P. A. Browne’s R. 40; 11 Verm. R. 536; Stark. on Slander, 182]. Members of congress and other legislative assemblies cannot be called to account for anything said in debate.
  12. 5th, malice is essential to the support of an action for slanderous words. But malice is in general to be presumed until the contrary be proved [4 B. & C. 247; 1 Saund. 242, n. 2; 1 T. R. 1 11, 544; 1 East, R. 563; 2 East, R. 436; 2 New Rep. 335; Bull N. P. 8] except in those cases where the occasion prima facie excuses the publication [4 B. & C. 247, see 14 Serg. 7 Rawle, 359; Stark. on Slander, 201; see generally, Com. Dig. Tit. Action upon the case for Defamation; Bac. Abr. Slander; 1 Vin. Abr. 187; 1 Phill. Ev. ch.8; Yelv. 28, n.; Doct. Plac. 53 Holt’s Law of Livels; Starkie on Slander, Ham. N. P. ch. 2, s. 3].



In torts. Oral defamation; the speaking of false and malicious words concerning another, whereby injury results to his reputation [see Pollard v. Lyon, 91 US 227, 23 L. Ed. 308; Fredrickson v. Johnson, 60 Minn. 337, 62 N. W. 388; Ross v. Ward, 14 S. D. 240, 85 N. W. 182, 86 Am. St. Rep. 746; Gambrill v. Schooley, 93 Md. 48, 48 Atl. 730, 52 L. R. A. 87, 86 Am. St. Rep. 414; Republican Pub. Co. v. Mosman, 15 Colo. 399, 24 Pac. 1051; Civ. Code Ga. 1825, § 3837].

  • Slander of title: This is a statement of something tending to cut down the extent of title to some estate vested in the plaintiff. Such statement, in order to be actionable, must be false and malicious; i.e. both untrue and done on purpose to inure the plaintiff. Damage must also have resulted from the statement [Brown; see Burkett v. Griffith, 90 Cal. 532, 27 Pac. 527, 13 L. R. A. 707, 25 Am. St. Rep. 151; Carbondale Inv. Co. v. Burdick, 67 Kan. 329, 72 Pac. 781; Butts v. Long, 94 Mo. App. 687, 68 S. W. 754].



1. A false tale or report maliciously uttered. and tending to injure the reputation of another by lessening him in the esteem of his fellow citizens, by exposing min to impeachment and punishment, or by impairing his means of lining; defamation. Slander, that worst of poisons, ever finds an easy entrance to ignoble minds.

2. Disgrace; reproach; disreputation; ill name.

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