Liable vs. Libel

Liable vs. Libel

Although the homonyms “liable” and “libel” have legal connotations, they are two different parts of speech and have different meanings.

Liable is an adjective that means obligated according to law or equity ownership, responsible for making amends. It also means being exposed to some adverse situation, such as being liable to fall off the ladder when reaching too far. It embodies the notion of possibility or probability of occurrence.

In some informal usages, liable may mean “likely,” particularly when followed by an infinitive.
Not-So-Great Example:
The boss is liable to let us leave work early the day before a holiday.

Some grammarians prefer to use “apt” in such cases, reserving “liable” for those situations referring to an undesirable outcome.
Better Example:
The boss is liable to get upset if the production target is not met by the end of the year.

The other legal word that sounds nearly the same, “libel,” means making a public defamatory statement that is not true. It is used as a noun or a verb, and it refers to the crime of ruining someone’s good reputation unjustly.

A libellant can institute a libel lawsuit against a libellee for making libelous statements about him or her in public – or on Facebook. So be careful what you say about someone online.

Mom always told me: “If you can’t say anything nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” The latter is practically impossible for me, so I usually give out a lot of compliments.


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