"To make maliciously or knowingly false statements about."
There's your dictionary word for the day.
UPDATE: paraphrase added
In case some got bogged down in the old language, I have attempted an interpretation.
From the works of Dr. Isaac Barrow:
Do they assume a power of playing with, tossing about, and tearing in pieces their neighbor's name, as if it were a mere toy? Do they, with an air of spirituality, backbite their brother?
Is it so common to tear another down, that no one wonders, dislikes, or detests it? But instead those who speak in this manner are heard with pleasure and held in esteem, viewed as a needed voice. This kind of tearing down is no longer seen as a sin, but instead praised as humorous, entertaining, witty, and popular, so that we no longer take ourselves or others to account for what is said.
We might pretend that it is not for personal reasons that we tear down our neighbor, but instead that it is for the sake of orthodox doctrine, for the purity of the truth, the protection of others that we must make our accusations known.
This is the cover of many slanders: zeal for an opinion, although sectarian or factious, motivates whatever is said against others. The cause is of greater importance than the reputations ruined in the process.
The method also is indicative of the motive. The accusations are seldom rendered face to face where one would be accountable for what they are saying.
Accusations are often couched in kind or flattering words in order to make them more credible. Inaccurately misrepresenting someone's words is another way of casting suspicion about them.
Other ways of slandering a person are to outright lie, to accuse them of things they aren't guilty of, to attribute ill motives or intentions to them, to exaggerate their faults, and to link them to evil things of which they themselves aren't actually guilty.
Sly suggestions and covert reflections are what we might call smoke and mirrors. It is to imply guilt without actually saying anything specific. This is done to breed suspicion in the hearers. The list of ways in which this is accomplished is interesting:
wily suppositions - "what if..."
shrewd insinuations - "well, it could be that..."
crafty questions - "did you hear..."
specious comparisons - "it's a bit like..."
intimating a possibility - "I don't know for sure, but..."
inferring some likelihood - "this is what might..."
inducing to believe - "I hate to say it, but..."
The purpose is to suggest guilt and scandal.
It is not only slander to lie, but also to fault-find in order to create damage. Love is not looking for faults and justice would not exaggerate them, because none of us are completely free of fault.
No matter how you try to dress it up...
it is a poison often infused in sweet liquor,
and ministered in a golden cup.
From the works of Dr. Isaac Barrow:
"Do they not usurp a power of playing with, of tossing about, of tearing in pieces their neighbor's good name, as if it were the veriest toy in the world? Do not many "having a form of godliness" (some of them demurely, others confidently, both without any sense of remorse for what they do) backbite their brethern?
Is it not grown so common a thing to asperse causelessly, that no man wonders at it, that few dislike, that scarce any detest it? that most notorious calumniators are heard, not only with patience, but with pleasure; yea are even held in vogue and reverence, as men of notable talent, and very serviceable to their party; so that slander seem to have lost its nature, and not be now an odious sin, but a fashionable humor, a way of pleasing entertainment, a fine knack, or a curious feat of policy; so that no man taketh himself or others to be accountable for what is said in this way?
Perhaps he will pretend it is not to promote his particular concernment, that he makes so bold with his neighbor, or deals so harshly with him; but for the sake of orthodox doctrine, for advantage of the true church, for the advancement of the public good, he judgeth it expedient to asperse him.
This is indeed the covert of innumerable slanders: zeal for some opinion, or some party, beareth out men of sectarian and factious spirits in such practices; they may do, they may say anything for those fine ends. What is a little truth, what is any man's reputation, in comparison to carrying on such brave designs?
Of these passions, the manner of his behavior is a manifest indication; for men do seldom vent their slanderous reports openly and loudly, to the face or in the ear of those who are concerned in them; but do utter them in a low voice, in dark corners, out of sight and hearing, where they can conceit themselves at present safe from being called to an account.
Even commendation itself is used to give passage to dispraises, and render the accusations following more credible, perverting a man's words disadvantageously by affected misconstruction, or a partial and lame discourse of men's discourse and practice.
This is accomplished by bearing false witness, affixing odious characters on persons, which they deserve not, aspersing a man's actions with harsh censure, importing that they proceed from ill principles or tend to bad ends. Also magnifying and aggravating the faults of others, and imputing to our neighbor's practice, evil consequences, apt to render him odious, which have no connexion with them.
Another manner is sly suggestions, through oblique and covert reflexions, one does not directly charge his neighbor with faults, but yet so speaks that he is understood or presumed to do so. Although they do not assert downright falsehoods, yet breed sinister opinions in the hearers, especially in those who from weakness, credulity, jealousy, or prejudice are prone to entertain them. This is done in many ways; by propounding wily suppositions, shrewd insinuations, crafty questions, and specious comparisons, intimating a possibility, or inferring some likelihood of, and thence inducing to believe the fact.
It is not only slander to pick a hole where there is none, but to make that wider which is, so that it appeareth more ugly, and cannot so easily be mended. For charity is wont to extenuate faults, justice doth never exaggerate them, as no man is exempt from some defects, or can live free from some misdemeanors.
Detraction may be couched in truth and clothed in fair language; it is a poison often infused in sweet liquor, and ministered in a golden cup."