Legal Dictionary


Definition of scandal


    From Middle French scandale (“indignation caused by misconduct or defamatory speech”), from Ecclesiastical Latin scandalum (“that on which one trips, cause of offense”, literally “stumbling block”), from Ancient Greek σκάνδαλον (skándalon, “a trap laid for an enemy, a cause of moral stumbling”), from Proto-Indo-European *skand- (“to jump”). Cognate with Latin scandō (“to climb”). First attested from Old Northern French escandle, but the modern word is a reborrowing. Sense evolution from "cause of stumbling, that which causes one to sin, stumbling block" to "discredit to reputation, that which brings shame, thing of disgrace" possibly due to early influence from other similar sounding words for infamy and disgrace (compare Old English scand (“ignominy, scandal, disgraceful thing”), Old High German scanda (“ignominy, disgrace”), Gothic (skanda, “shame, disgrace”)).


  • IPA: /ˈskændəl/
  • Rhymes: -ændəl


scandal (plural scandals)

  1. An incident or event that disgraces or damages the reputation of the persons or organization involved.

    Their affair was reported as a scandal by most tabloids.

  2. Damage to one's reputation.

    The incident brought considerable scandal to his family.

  3. Wide-spread moral outrage, indignation, as over an offence to decency.

    When their behaviour was made public it caused a great scandal.

  4. (theology) Religious discredit; an act or behaviour which brings a religion into discredit.
  5. (theology) Something which hinders acceptance of religious ideas or behaviour; a stumbling-block or offense.
  6. Defamatory talk; gossip, slander.

    According to village scandal, they weren't even married.

Further reading

A scandal is a widely publicized allegation or set of allegations that damages (or tries to damage) the reputation of an institution, individual or creed. A scandal may be based on true or false allegations or a mixture of both.

From the Greek σκάνδαλον (skandalon), a trap or stumbling-block, the metaphor is that wrong conduct can impede or "trip" people's trust or faith.

Some scandals are broken by whistleblowers who reveal wrongdoing within organizations or groups, such as Deep Throat (William Mark Felt) during the 1970s Watergate scandal. Sometimes an attempt to cover up a possible scandal ignites a greater scandal when the cover-up fails.

Western world

In the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, scandals, particularly political ones, are often referred to by adding the suffix "-gate" to a word connected with the events, recalling the Watergate scandal, such as "Nannygate".

List of scandals

  • Political scandals
  • Academic scandals
  • Sporting scandals
  • Game show scandals
  • Corporate scandals
  • Journalistic scandals
  • Olympic Games scandals
  • Roman Catholic sex abuse cases
  • Christian evangelist scandals
  • Scandals with "-gate" suffix
  • Sex scandals


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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