Innuendo: The other kind of Defamation

Innuendo is used to describe defamation from libel or slander. It is derived from a Latin term “innuere”, “to nod toward”. In lawsuit for defamation, usually to show that the party suing was the person about whom the defamatory statement was made. Example: ‘the former Mayor is a crook,” and Joe Alexander is the only living ex-Mayor, thus by innuendo Alexander is the target of the statement.

Defamation is the injury to the reputation of a person. If a person harms the reputation of another he does so at his own risk. As in the case of interference with the property, a man’s reputation is his property, and if possible, more valuable, than other property.

Any intentional false, defamatory statement or communication, written or spoken that decrease the respect, regard or confidence of a person will be called defaming him. Essential of defamation include, the statement being published, the statement should not be truth and it must refer to the plaintiff.

The intention to defame is not necessary  as held in the Scottish  case of Morrison v. Ritchie and Co.[1] ,where damages were recovered against the proprietors of a newspaper who in all innocence had announced in the paper that a lad, who had in fact been married only a month, had given Innuendo is a concept that is related to tort law and is a personal injury law. The word is derived from ‘innuere’, which is a Latin word and means to ‘nod forward’. In legal terms, Innuendo is used to describe defamation from either libel or slander. It usually shows that the plaintiff had bad comments made about him and those comments were in fact defamatory.

The innuendo is usually just used in actions for slander, when a defamation made by words or gestures. Innuendo typically refers to a condition where a person explains a factual situation which on the first note might not sound defamatory but, yet after interpreting can cause or has caused damage to the person.

Thus, when Innuendo is on the table to be proved, it must always show the entire scenario from start to the end of the declaration. This serves to be very important to prove that the intent can be mistaken, or when it cannot be directly obtained from the forms of slander or libel.

There are two major types of innuendo. True Innuendo and False Innuendo. False innuendo is a defamatory statement made that has an implied meaning. So, only individuals who have the necessary contextual knowledge can understand that the comment made is defamatory.

Secondly, legal or true innuendo. While this is not defamatory on its face, a true innuendo statement can be defamatory when combined with certain outside circumstances. This contextual information may cause a statement to be considered defamatory in a certain way while not another.

A statement may be prima facie defamatory when their natural, obvious and primary sense is defamatory. Sometimes, the words may prima facie be innocent but because of some latent or secondary meaning, it may be considered to be defamatory.

Where the words alleged to be defamatory do not appear to be such on their face, the plaintiff must make out the circumstances which made them actionable, and he must set forth in his pleading the defamatory sense he attributes to them. Such an explanatory statement is called an innuendo.

When the natural and ordinary meaning is not defamatory but the plaintiff wants to bring an action for defamation, the burden of proof lies on him to prove the innuendo.

In the absence of an innuendo, no evidence can be admitted to prove a special meaning and the suit will be dismissed.

An innuendo is necessary where the imputation is made in an oblique way, or by way of question, exclamation, or conjecture, or irony.

An innuendo, properly so called, which provides a separate cause of action, must be supported by extrinsic facts or matter and cannot be founded on mere interpretation.


[1] 1902 SLR 39

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