The first reading for today’s Mass is from the Book of Tobit, chapter 3. There in verse 6 is a simple phrase – in the Greek it is oneidismous pseudeis. Depending on the New American Bible translation being used you will either hear “false reproaches” or the less familiar “calumnies.”
“Calumny” is not a word that finds common usage in most people’s everyday vocabulary. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines “calumny” as “the act of uttering false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm another’s reputation.” The word came into English in the 15th century and comes from the Middle French word calomnie of the same meaning. Calomnie, in turn, derives from the Latin word calumnia, (meaning “false accusation,” “false claim,” or “trickery”), which itself traces to the Latin verb calvi, meaning “to deceive.” Calumny made an appearance in these famous words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go.” Hamlet is basically tormenting poor Ophelia. He tells her that, as a woman, she will never escape calumny (slander).
Did you know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a section on the sin of calumny?