Definition of blackmail in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈblakmeɪl/


[mass noun]
1The action, treated as a criminal offence, of demanding money from someone in return for not revealing compromising information which one has about them: they were acquitted of charges of blackmail [as modifier]: she recounted the blackmail threats
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.
extortion, demanding money with menaces, exaction, intimidation;
protection racket, bribery;
wringing, milking, bleeding, bloodsucking
informal hush money
archaic chantage
1.1Money demanded by a person or group engaged in blackmail: 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: some people use emotional blackmail
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]
1Demand money from (someone) in return for not revealing compromising information about them: they use this fact to blackmail him, trying to force him to vote for their candidate
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, hold to ransom, milk, bleed
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.
coerce, pressurize, pressure, bring pressure to bear on, bulldoze, force, railroad
informal lean on, put the screws on, twist someone's arm



Pronunciation: /ˈblakmeɪlə/
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.


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.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: black|mail

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