tr.v. ma·ligned, ma·lign·ing, ma·ligns
To make evil, harmful, and often untrue statements about (someone).
1. Evil or harmful in nature or effect: "He felt that the malign influence of the house had governed his own disintegration" (Thomas Wolfe).
2. Intending or threatening harm or ill will; malevolent: "a snarling, bickering husky ... heavy-chested, with a malign eye" (Jack London).
[Middle English malignen, to attack, from Old French malignier, from Late Latin malignārī, from Latin malignus, malign; see genə- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots. Adj., from Middle English, from Old French, from Latin malignus.]
Synonyms: malign, defame, traduce, vilify, slander, calumniate, libel
These verbs mean to make evil, harmful, often untrue statements about another. Malign stresses malicious intent: "Have I not taken your part when you were maligned?" (William Makepeace Thackeray).
Defame suggests damage to reputation through misrepresentation: The plaintiff had been defamed and had legitimate grounds for a lawsuit.
Traduce connotes the humiliation or disgrace resulting from such damage: "My character was traduced by Captain Hawkins ... even the ship's company cried out shame" (Frederick Marryat).
Vilify pertains to open, deliberate, vicious defamation: "As long as there have been personal fouls and holding penalties, sports fans have vilified referees for making bad calls" (Jason Zinoman).
Slander and calumniate apply to oral expression: He slandered his political opponent. She calumniated and ridiculed her former employer.
Libel involves the communication of written or pictorial material: The celebrity sued the tabloid that libeled her.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.