Malign, traduce, asperse, vilify, calumniate, defame, slander, libel mean to speak evil of for the purpose of injuring and without regard for the truth.
Malign and traduce usually imply persecution; they commonly suggest such a blinding passion as hatred, violent prejudice, or bigotry as the motive.
Malign, however, although it carries the implication that the person, group, or race affected is the victim of lies, does not necessarily impute deliberate lying to the speaker or writer.
Traduce carries these implications also, but it stresses the resulting ignominy more than malign.
Asperse and vilify both imply efforts to destroy a person’s good name or reputation.
Asperse suggests an intent to detract from one’s reputation or to lower one in popular esteem by direct accusations or, more often, by such subtler methods as innuendo or spreading false reports.
Vilify implies open methods and an intent to blacken one’s good name and to make it vile and shameful; it usually suggests direct accusation coupled with violent abuse and scurrilous name-calling.
Calumniate imputes malice to the speaker or writer and falsity to his aspersions or accusations and often implies that the false and malicious statements have seriously damaged the good name of the victim.
Defame, slander, and libel are found both in general and in legal use, but their strict legal definitions are more or less affecting their literary meanings. All imply calumniation, but they differ from calumniate mainly in their emphasis on the positive damaging effect of the lies.
Defame, both in legal and in literary use, suggests an actual injury to one’s good name or a definite loss of repute or reputation.
To slander, in legal use, is to defame orally; in general use it covers both written and printed as well as oral calumniation. It also, more strongly than defame or calumniate, connotes positive suffering on the part of the victim.
Libel (compare LIBEL ) is chiefly a legal term; in general use its implications are much the same. It implies the printing or writing of something that defames a person or his reputation and the publication or circulation of such printed or written matter.