February 01, 2012
libel (noun)
\LYE-bul\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
1 : something spoken, written, or drawn that injures a person's good name2 : the act or crime of publishing a libel
How do you use it?
The actress alleged that the scandalous libel published in the tabloid ruined her career.
Are you a word wiz?

At the root of "libel" is the Latin word "liber." What do you think "liber" means?

No harm done if you picked A. The ancient Romans originally used "liber" for the inner bark of a tree. Because they used the bark to write on, "liber" came to mean a written document. After papyrus replaced bark, "liber" was used to refer to papyrus scrolls, or "books." The French adopted a form of "liber" to mean "little book," and English speakers borrowed the French word as "libel." Later, "libel" was used for handbills and leaflets. Because such leaflets were a popular means of spreading unflattering statements about famous people, the meaning of "libel" extended to such stories and to the act of writing them.
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