Slander vs. Libel: What’s the Difference?

Both of these words can have legal consequences and fit broadly under the umbrella of defamation, but what do they actually mean?

In this post, I want to compare slander vs. libel. I will go over their definitions, their legal uses, and give you a trick to remember them for your future writing.

After reading this post, you won’t ever again ask yourself, “Do I mean slander or libel?”

What is the Difference Between Slander and Libel?

As I mentioned above, both of these words fit under the broad umbrella of defamation. Defamation is defined as the act of defaming, calumny, slander, or libel. If you are defaming someone, you are attacking his or her reputation, usually in a public way.

Slander and libel are both different ways of defaming someone, so let’s explore their differences.

When to Use Slander

what is slanderWhat does slander mean? Slander is oral communications of false and malicious statements that damage the reputation of another.

Slander is transitory by nature, which means it exists or lasts only a short period of time.

This usually gets equated to verbal speech because, unless they are being recorded, oral communications only last while the words are being said.

When to Use Libel

what is libelWhat does libel mean? Libel is the legally indefensible publication or broadcast of words or images that damage the reputation of another.

Libel is permanent by nature, which means once it is printed, published, or broadcasted, it exists forever.

Obvious examples of libel would be magazine stories, newspaper articles, books, etc.

Examples

  • This is a libelous piece of journalism.
  • Your statements today have been slanderous towards my company.
  • In 2009, he wrote a post attacking Sidney Blumenthal, a former TNR staff member, and his son Max, suggesting Blumenthal owed him money from a long-ago loan. An intern flagged this assertion as potentially libelous and held the item until editors could confer. –The New York Times
  • Putin could never understand Boris. He could never appreciate how someone could be impervious to threats and slander, to the lure of corruption and the oppression of fear. –The Wall Street Journal

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here’s a good trick to keep track of libel vs. slander. If you use these self memory checks, you won’t ever have trouble with these words again.

Check one: Slander is generally speech. Speech and slander both start with an “s.”

Check two: Libel is long lasting. Long lasting and libel both start with an “l.”

Summary

Is it libel or slander? That depends on the medium of dissemination. Both of these things qualify as defamation, but each is a specific kind.

Slander is usually spoken.

Libel is usually written.