Blackmail vs extortion

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The terms blackmail and extortion are often used interchangeably though in fact, there is a subtle difference between the two. We will look at the difference between the words blackmail and extortion, where the words come from, and some examples of their use in sentences.

Blackmail is a crime wherein the blackmailer demands goods, services or money in exchange for not revealing information that would be detrimental to the person being blackmailed. The information may be true or untrue. Blackmail may be used as a noun or verb, related words are blackmails, blackmailed, blackmailing, blackmailer. The word blackmail is derived from the Scottish word mal, meaning agreement, bargaining, rent. In the 1500s, rental payments were called silver mail as the payments were usually made with silver coins. Scottish chieftains collected protection money, or blackmail, from farmers in exchange for not razing their farms. The Gaelic word blathaich means to protect.

Extortion is a crime wherein the extortionist demands goods, services or money through coercion. Coercion may involve the threat of violence, use of force or criminal use of authority. Extortion is a noun, the verb form is extort. Related words are extorts, extorted, extorting, extortionist. The word extortion is derived from the Latin word extortionem which means twisting out. Remember, the word blackmail refers to a crime wherein the threat is a revelation of information, extortion refers to a crime wherein the threat is either physical, violent or an unfair use of power.


An 82-year-old woman was the victim of unwanted sexual advances from a man on bail for blackmailing sexual images from teenage girls. (The National)

A former city building inspector pleaded guilty Thursday to attempted extortion for shaking down a building owner for $300. (The Chicago Tribune)

The film fraternity is a soft target when it comes to blackmail and extortion, and shamefully, it is the quickest to buckle under threats. (The Hindu)