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From Late Middle English calumnīe (false accusation, slander; (law) objection raised in bad faith),[1] borrowed from Old French calomnie (slander, calumny) (modern French calomnie), or directly from its etymon Latin calumnia (false statement, misrepresentation; false accusation, malicious charge),[2] perhaps related to calvor (to deceive), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ḱelh₁- or *ḱh₂l-. The English word is a doublet of challenge.

The verb is derived from French calomnier (to slander), from Late Latin calumniāre, from Latin calumpniārī,[3] calumniārī, present active infinitive of calumnior (to blame unjustly, misrepresent, calumniate; (law) to accuse falsely, bring false information against), from calumnia (see above) + -or.



calumny (countable and uncountable, plural calumnies)

  1. (countable) A false accusation or charge brought to tarnish another's reputation or standing.
    • 1759, William Robertson, “Book V”, in The History of Scotland, during the Reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI, till His Accession to the Crown of England. [], volume I, London: [] A[ndrew] Millar [], →OCLC, page 425:
      He [Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk] mentioned to her [Elizabeth I of England] the rumour, which was ſpread of his marriage with the Scotch Queen [Mary, Queen of Scots]; he complained of it as a groundleſs calumny; and diſclaimed all thoughts of that kind, with many expreſſions full of contempt, both for Mary's character, and dominions.
    • 1799, George Anastaplo, “[Appendix] Report of a House of Delegates Minority on the Virginia Resolutions (1799)”, in Reflections on Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment, Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, published 2007, →ISBN, page 231:
      To publish all malicious calumnies against an individual with an intent to defame him, is a wrong on the part of the calumniator, and an injury to the individual, for which the law affords redress. To write or print these calumnies is such an aggravation of the crime, as to constitute an offense against the government, and the author of the libel is subject to the additional punishment which may be inflicted under an indictment.
    • 1853 July, John S[tevens] C[abot] Abbott, “Napoleon Bonaparte”, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, volume VII, number XXXVIII, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, [], →OCLC, page 191, column 2:
      The First Consul looked upon her as his child. It was only in that country so fertile in the inventions of scandal, that so foolish an accusation could have been imagined, as that any feeling less pure than paternal affection actuated his conduct toward her. The vile calumny met with the contempt it merited.
    • 1895 May 4, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, “Sir P. M. Mehta”, in Speeches of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, 3rd edition, Madras: G. A. Natesan & Co., published 1920, →OCLC, pages 789–799:
      He [James Westland] lost his temper when Mr. [Pherozeshah Merwanjee] Mehta spoke in his vigorous manner of the defects of the Civil Service, and complained bitterly that Mr. Mehta was introducing a new spirit in the discussions in the Legislative Council, and ended by accusing him of uttering a calumny. When, however, the speeches of the two were published, the public was in a position to judge who it was that had uttered a calumny.
    • 1955 October 8, Lionel Gelber, quoting Konrad Adenauer, “Dr Adenauer’s Testament: World Indivisible. By Konrad Adenauer. Harper’s. $2.75. [book review]”, in Ram Singh, A. K. Mukerji, editors, Thought, air edition, volume VII, number 41, New Delhi: Printed on behalf of Siddhartha Publications Ltd., by R. L. Chadha at Naya Hindustan Press, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 15, column 1:
      We are convinced that the fine reputation and the worthy role of the German soldier, despite all the calumnies of recent years, are still cherished among our people and will remain so.
  2. (uncountable) Falsifications or misrepresentations intended to disparage or discredit another.
    Synonyms: calumniousness, defamation, obloquy, traducement, vilification; see also Thesaurus:slander
    Accusations of abuse were pure extortive calumny in a malicious bid to make money.
    • 1586 March 4, James Carmichael, “[Letters and Papers of Mr James Carmichael, Minister of Haddington. M.D.LXXXIV.–M.D.LXXXVI.] A Part of Mr Carmichael’s Letter to His Father-in-law, against the Subscriptioun of the Kingis Acts, 4th Martij 1585–6.”, in David Laing, editor, The Miscellany of the Wodrow Society: Containing Tracts and Original Letters, Chiefly Relating to the Ecclesiastical Affairs of Scotland during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, volume I, Edinburgh: Printed for the Wodrow Society, published 1844, →OCLC, page 444:
      Thus have I frielie, in reverence and love, schewit my opinion in this matter, and that privatlie to your self alone, to consider it mair deiplie, without bitternes or upbraiding calumnie to thame who sie and hes socht out this mater mair warelie, whose harts I trust ze sal find far from calumnie or seiking praise to them selfs by reproche of uthers, []
    • c. 1599–1602 (date written), William Shake-speare, The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: [] (First Quarto), London: [] [Valentine Simmes] for N[icholas] L[ing] and Iohn Trundell, published 1603, →OCLC, [Act III, scene i]:
      If thou doſt marry, Ile giue thee / This plague to thy dowry: / Be thou as chaſte as yce, as pure as ſnowe, / Thou ſhalt not ſcape calumny, to a Nunnery goe.
    • 1609, Robert Pitcairn, “[Criminal Trials and Other Proceedings before the High Court of Justiciary.] Extract from Letter, the Privy Council to the King, Relative to Lord Maxwell, &c.”, in Criminal Trials in Scotland, from A.D. M.CCC.LXXXVIII to A.D. M.DC.XXIV, Embracing the Entire Reigns of James IV. and V., Mary Queen of Scots, and James VI. [], volume III, Edinburgh: William Tait, []; London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, published 1833, →OCLC, page 50:
      And quhairas ʒour Ma[jesty] is informed, that theſe who wer appoynted to proſequut the Lord Maxwell hes keipit companie with him, theaſe that hes commandement of ʒour Ma[jesty]s Guairdis humlie craves tryall of that calumnie; []
    • 1722 May 1, Richard Meadowcourt, The Sinful Causes, and Fatal Effects of the Practice of Calumny and Defamation in Religious Controversy, Exemplified, and Describ’d. In a Sermon Preach’d before the University of Oxford, in Merton-College Chappel, May the First, 1722. [], London: Printed by W. Wilkins, for J. Peele, [], →OCLC, paragraph 2, page 9:
      In ſhort, no Inſtruments or Methods of Calumny, and Defamation will be left unemployed to cruſh the Man, who has the Courage to oppoſe the Errors, which Avarice, and Self-Intereſt combine to eſtabliſh.
    • 1774 November, G. D., “The Tar’s Engagement”, in Sylvanus Urban [pseudonym; Edward Cave], editor, The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, volume XLIV, London: Printed [], for D[avid] Henry, and sold by F[rancis] Newbery, [], →OCLC, page 534, column 1:
      There meet two rivals of Neptunian race, / Hoſtilities begin with fierce grimace: / In ſcorn, contempt, in oaths and calumny, / In virulence, and vile contumely, []
    • 2015, Pope Francis, “Martyrs of the Church”, in Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday, New York, N.Y.: Image, Crown Publishing Group, →ISBN:
      Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, was a victim of calumny. And calumny is worse than a sin; calumny is a direct expression of Satan.

Derived terms[edit]



calumny (third-person singular simple present calumnies, present participle calumnying, simple past and past participle calumnied)

  1. (transitive, formal) To make false accusations or levy false charges against a person with the intent to tarnish that person's reputation or standing; to calumniate.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:defame
    • 1849, Wolfgang Menzel, “The Great Elector”, in Mrs. George Horrocks, transl., The History of Germany, from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. [...] Translated from the Fourth German Edition. [...] In Three Volumes, volume II, London: Henry G[eorge] Bohn, [], →OCLC, part XX (The Age of Louis the Fourteenth), page 492:
      His [Dominieus Dietrich's] memory has been basely calumnied by many German historians.
    • 1997, [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau, “[Discourse on the Sciences and Arts or First Discourse, part II.] Observations [to Stanislas, King of Poland]”, in Victor Gourevitch, editor, The Discourses and Other Earl Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, published 2003, →ISBN, paragraph 39, page 41:
      However, the Priests of the idols, not content with persecuting Christians, began to calumny them; the Philosophers, finding a Religion that preached humility unrewarding, joined their Priests. Ridicule and insults were showered [] on the new Sect from all sides.
    • 1999, Geoffrey Cubitt, “Robespierre and Conspiracy Theories”, in Colin Haydon, William Doyle, editors, Robespierre, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, published 2006, →ISBN, page 87:
      It is this coalition that seeks to tear the Republic apart, by ceaselessly calumnying the people of Paris and all the representatives whom it has honoured with its trust …
    • 2008, Paul-Henri Thiry; Baron d’Holbach, “Bergier’s Refutation”, in David Holohan, transl., Christianity Unveiled (Rescued from Obscurity Series), Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey: Hodgson Press, →ISBN, § 3, page 176:
      He rails, he piles on the abuse, he calumnies without any sense of decency or restraint, and his gloomy character makes him see everything as black.



  1. ^ calumnīe, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 26 November 2018; “calumny”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ calumny, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1888.
  3. ^ calumny, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1888.