Definition: To make malicious statements known to be false in an effort to harm someone’s reputation or character.
Usage: Our language can damage others in several ways: we may defame (to focus an attack on the victim’s reputation), malign (to attack someone’s character by speaking badly of him or her), or vilify (to grossly criticize someone to undermine their character and reputation). “Calumniate” implies an attack on character or reputation that is knowingly incorrect. Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th-century British Prime Minister, said that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Calumniating falls under Disraeli’s second category. The noun is “calumny.”
Suggested Usage: Unfortunately, we find this behavior on all levels: “After a period of scandal, politicians sometimes become more careful about calumniating their opponents.” “Humans are basically sadistic; watch how toddlers calumniate their siblings, just to watch the spectacle of the punishment.”
Etymology: Latin calumnia “trickery, chicanery” from calvor “to deceive.”
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