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blackmail Syllabification: black·mail
Pronunciation: /ˈblakˌmāl/

Definition of blackmail in English:


1The action, treated as a criminal offense, of demanding money from a person in return for not revealing compromising or injurious information about that person: they were acquitted of charges of blackmail
More example sentences
  • Police treated the approach as blackmail and brought charges against him last October.
  • It is, after all, free information usable for blackmail, theft or provoking a crippling system breakdown.
  • A 23-year-old man branded the UK's worst spammer has been jailed for six years for a string of offences including blackmail and threatening to kill.
1.1Money demanded from a person in return for not revealing injurious information: we do not pay blackmail
More example sentences
  • He was embezzling in order to pay blackmail over a fight he was involved in, in which a person died.
  • He had in fact suggested several times that it might be necessary to pay blackmail to silence the burglars who broke into party headquarters.
  • He had to do a very public confession, because it was shown that he was paying blackmail.
1.2The use of threats or the manipulation of someone’s feelings to force them to do something: out of fear, she submitted to Jim’s emotional blackmail they are trying to blackmail us with hunger
More example sentences
  • In cases of forced marriage the force can be emotional blackmail or other forms of psychological pressure.
  • Five years on, her husband is facing a charge for assault - the culmination of a marriage which descended into emotional blackmail, abuse and violence.
  • Unwilling girls might be subjected to threats, ranging from physical violence and being locked up, to subtle emotional blackmail.


[with object] Back to top  
1Demand money from (a person) in return for not revealing compromising or injurious information about that person: trying to blackmail him for $400,000
More example sentences
  • Other gangs have resorted to blackmailing doctors monthly in return for their personal safety.
  • She was blackmailing people for money, but I didn't find any names or any dirty information, just that.
  • Once the hackers gain access to systems they download proprietary information, customer databases, and credit card information before trying to blackmail victims.
extort money from, threaten
informal demand hush money from
1.1Force (someone) to do something by using threats or manipulating their feelings: he had blackmailed her into sailing with him
More example sentences
  • The liberals use this fact to blackmail him, trying to force him to vote for their candidate.
  • Because once you allow your nation to be blackmailed by the threat of force, you're doomed.
  • I'm not threatening you or blackmailing you with friendship so that you vote my way.


Mid 16th century (denoting protection money levied by Scottish chiefs): from black + obsolete mail 'tribute, rent', from Old Norse mál 'speech, agreement'.

  • Blackmail was originally a form of protection racket. Scottish chiefs in the 16th century exacted a tribute from farmers and small landowners in the border counties of England and Scotland, and along the Highland border. The money was in return for protection or immunity from plunder. The second part of the word means ‘tribute, rent’ and comes from an old Scandinavian word mál, meaning ‘speech, agreement’. Black may have been a joke on white money, the silver coins in which legitimate rents were paid.



Pronunciation: /ˈblakˌmālər/
Example sentences
  • Harry and his fellow detectives faced communist and terrorist groups, as well as common kidnappers and blackmailers.
  • Extortion is always a problem for law enforcement, since the blackmailer has something over those he's blackmailing.
  • The blackmailers themselves were a varied lot, but a significant number were involved with police or law enforcement.

Words that rhyme with blackmail


Definition of blackmail in:

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