Forms of Defamatory Meaning

AuthorDavid A. Potts
ProfessionBarrister, Bar of Ontario
 : Forms of Defamatory Meaning
e followi ng is e xtracted from Roger D. McConchie and Dav id A . Potts,
Canadian Libel and Slander Actions (Irw in Law, ) at –:
e caselaw suggests that defamatory imputat ions a rise in one of t hree
i) e litera l meaning: for example, where the plainti has been ca lled a
thief or a murderer it is not necessary to go beyond the words themselves.
is is called t he “natural and ordinary” mea ning in the case authorities.
ii) An inferential meaning: Here the sting of the defamation lies not so much
in the expression itse lf as in the meaning that the ordinary person, w ith-
out special knowledge, will infer from it. is meaning is a matter of im-
pression. is is also called a “natural and ordinar y meaning.” It is al so
sometimes referred to a s “popular” or “false” innuendo. A di scussion of
the nature of inferential meanings is contained in the judgment of Lord
Reid in Lewis v. Daily Telegraph Ltd., []  All E.R.  at – (H.L.):
What the ordinary man would infer without special knowledge ha s
generally been called the natural and ordinary meani ng of the words.
But that expression is rather misleadi ng in t hat it conceal s the fac t
that there are t wo elements in it. Sometimes it is not necessary to go
beyond the words themselves a s where the plainti has been called
a thief or a murderer. But more oen the sting is not so much in t he
words themselves as in what the ordinar y man will in fer from them
and that is also regarded as pa rt of their natural and ordinar y mean-
ing. Here t here would be nothi ng libelous in s aying that an inquiry

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