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Backbiting or tale-bearing is to slander someone in their absence — to bite them behind their back. Originally, backbiting referred to an unsporting attack from the rear in the blood sport of bearbaiting.[1]

In the Baha'i Faith, Christian, Islamic and Jewish doctrine, backbiting is considered a sin. The Baha'i leaders condemned it as the worst of sins as it destroyed the 'life of the soul' and provoked divine wrath.[2] Thomas Aquinas classified it as a mortal sin, but considered it to be the gravest sin that one could commit against one's neighbour.[3] Islam considers it to be a major sin and the Qur'an compares it to the abhorrent act of eating the flesh of one's dead brother.[4]

In Judaism, backbiting is known as Lashon HaRa (the evil tongue) and it is considered a sin based on the verse in Psalms 34:14: "Stop your tongue from evil; and your lips from iniquity."

In Buddhism, backbiting goes against the ideal of right speech.[5]


Backbiting may occur as a form of release after a confrontation. By insulting the opposing person, the backbiter diminishes them and, by doing so, restores their own self-esteem. A bond may also be established with the confidante if they are receptive to the hostile comment. Such gossip is common in human society as people seek to divert blame and establish their place in the dominance hierarchy.[6] But the backbiting may be perceived as a form of delinquent behaviour due to an inferiority complex.[7]


  1. ^ Webb B. Garrison, "To Backbite", Why You Say It 
  2. ^ Peter Smith, An introduction to the Baha'i faith 
  3. ^ Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 2 
  4. ^ Rafik Berjak (2006), "Backbiting", The Qur'an: an encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis 
  5. ^ Jootla, Susan (1982). "Right Livelihood: The Noble Eightfold Path in the Working Life". The Wheel. Buddhist Publication Society / Access to Insight. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Geoff Beattie (29 April 2010), Brown's 'bigot' remark: It's that sinking feeling, BBC 
  7. ^ "Psychology of Backbiting", The Educational review, 70-71, 1964: 195