verb (used with object)
OTHER WORDS FROM blackmailblack·mail·er, noun
Words nearby blackmail
What does blackmail mean?
Blackmail is the act of attempting to force someone to do something or give up something valuable by threatening negative consequences if they don’t, especially revealing negative information about them.
Blackmail can also be used as a verb meaning to do such a thing.
Less commonly, blackmail can refer specifically to a payment made due to threats or coercion.
Perhaps the most common blackmail scenario is forcing someone to pay money in order to avoid having a negative secret revealed about them.
Blackmail is a serious crime, but sometimes the word is applied to less serious situations. For example, making your sibling do your chores so you don’t tattle on them to your parents for something they did is definitely blackmail.
Example: My life is an open book, so you have nothing to blackmail me with—everyone already knows all my secrets!
Where does blackmail come from?
The first records of blackmail come from the 1500s. Black is used in the sense of “bad” or “evil.” Mail doesn’t refer to the letters that we send through the post office but instead to another sense of the word meaning “payment” or “tax,” from the Old English māl, meaning “agreement.” In the original sense of blackmail, it was a forced agreement. In the 1500s, Scottish chieftains engaged in a protection racket in which they’d force farmers in Scotland and northern England to pay for protection against plunder. (Nowadays, we’d probably call this kind of scheme extortion.) It wasn’t until a few hundred years later that blackmail came to be used in its current, more general sense.
Most commonly, blackmail refers to the act of threatening to reveal a secret that will ruin someone’s reputation unless they pay or submit to other demands. It’s especially associated with public figures such as politicians and celebrities, who are often the target of such blackmail attempts. But blackmail can happen in different ways and on different scales. Emotional blackmail refers to actions like withholding affection to get something desired. Nuclear blackmail refers to a nation threatening to use its nuclear weapons in order to influence the actions of another country.
What’s the difference between blackmail and extortion?
The two words can be used interchangeably. Extortion, though, is often used more broadly, and often refers to coercion through threats of violence or the abuse of one’s authority.
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What are some other forms related to blackmail?
- blackmailer (noun)
What are some synonyms for blackmail?
What are some words that share a root or word element with blackmail?
What are some words that often get used in discussing blackmail?
How is blackmail used in real life?
Blackmail is often used to refer to a crime, especially one targeting politicians or celebrities. But it can be used in less serious contexts as well.
How the hell is this dude still in office after all the kidnapping and blackmail charges?
— Calvin (@calvinstowell) April 17, 2018
Sorry to say that my twitter , insta and FB accounts and my emails have been hacked into and the hacker is now trying to blackmail me .I’m so sorry if you got any strange private messages but they weren’t from me. We know who this person is and on it ! My twitter is now secured
— Lizzie Cundy (@lizziecundy) January 13, 2020
Fezzik has figured out that when he whines we all go into high alert mode in case it’s another scare with his heart and has been using that to emotionally blackmail me into giving him constant belly rubs. I haven’t gotten a thing done all day. My left hand is a part of him now.
— Sarah McGonagall (@sarahmcgphoto) December 18, 2019
Try using blackmail!
True or False?
Blackmail always involves forcing someone to pay money to prevent a secret about them from being revealed.
Example sentences from the Web for blackmail
Plus, his known drug dealings certainly made him vulnerable to blackmail.The Deal With Serial’s Jay? He’s Pissed Off, Mucks Up Our Timeline |Emily Shire |December 31, 2014 |DAILY BEAST
Americans are giving in to North Korean blackmail—and it will only get worse.The Sony Hack and America’s Craven Capitulation To Terror |David Keyes |December 19, 2014 |DAILY BEAST
Back in England, Hitchcock made the transition from silents to sound with Blackmail, Britain's first talkie.Alfred Hitchcock’s Fade to Black: The Great Director’s Final Days |David Freeman |December 13, 2014 |DAILY BEAST
VanDyke confirmed the attack on his website, writing that SEA had emailed him a blackmail threat.
The more accomplished students took classes in safe-cracking, burglary, blackmail, and confidence games.Meet 'The Queen of Thieves' Marm Mandelbaum, New York City's First Mob Boss |J. North Conway |September 7, 2014 |DAILY BEAST
We have had to pay her blackmail regularly, like the other artists, for we are obliged to go home after midnight.The Son of Clemenceau |Alexandre (fils) Dumas
She does not admit that the entries are the wythes of blackmail.Idling in Italy |Joseph Collins
Do you suppose he'd have hesitated to blackmail me if I'd compromised myself with his wife?The Doctor's Dilemma |George Bernard Shaw
The police, of course, shared in the plunder, and dabbled in every species of blackmail.Eastern Nights - and Flights |Alan Bott
The chance seemed certain: his money was paid; his letters were returned; never had blackmail gone on smoother wheels.The Relentless City |Edward Frederic Benson