Help Understanding Detraction

I am having some trouble understanding what classifies as detraction.

Here’s an example: Lets say I tell a friend at work a family story my mother told me about how her college English teacher corrected her character’s purposefully bad grammar because she was a journalist. This was said with the intent of simply sharing a story, not to bring anyone down. :shrug:

Would this be included detraction because it has the potential to hurt the English teacher (who probably is retired now anyway)?

Don’t think so. Detraction, IMO requires a specific (ie named…) target. Yours was a general anecdote about a past event.

Excellent question!

I found an excellent article on the subject on the New Advent website. Haven’t quite finished it yet, but will post more when I do. :smiley:


There are actually three persons who may be harmed by detraction: The one telling the story, the one hearing it, and the one about whom it is told. If the story is told without naming or identifying the subject, we’ve eliminated one of the three. Then I guess it comes down to charity. If the story works against charity, good will, or solidarity (for example, if it suggests that people are unkind, just to mention one of many possibilities), then it is better left untold.

This description of detraction differs slightly from the one given the the Catechism, but is one I have adopted from an old book, Sins of the Tongue: The Backbiting Tongue, by Father Belét (written in 1870, originally in French, now available in English).

The story as you described it in the OP sounds all right. It is about a misunderstanding about literary style, not anything against the character of the person or against the goodness of people in general.

Well said. :thumbsup:

In the article from the Catholic Encyclopedia on New Advent, it also specifically mentioned using the experiences of others as teaching tools – to learn virtue from examples of vice. But even in these instances, unless another’s wrongdoings were common knowledge – e.g., they were convicted by a jury of their peers for a criminal offense – then connecting the wrongs with a specific person should not be done.

That’s my take on it anyway.

In your example, Melodeonist, unless you all knew the English teacher of whom you speak, and you mentioned her by name (or her job title made it immediately apparent to everyone of whom you were speaking) then no harm would have come to her from relating this story.

Now, if your purpose in relating this story was to prove that all teachers were incompetent or control freaks, then you would absolutely have a problem. :o

God bless you, dear one. You ask excellent questions!

(Oh, and I stumbled upon a video of your 1950’s world that you created – what fun!! :D)

…I think that there are levels within levels here…

a) Are you making the name of the professor or college known?
b) Are you clear on your definitions (I am confused as to the meaning of “corrected her character’s purposefully bad grammar”–was that an actual character on a story or is that referring to your mother choice of expression?)
c) Is the intent to malign the professor for correcting the grammatical errors of his/her students?

I was going to cite but it’s been done so here’s an excerpt:

Detraction is the unjust damaging of another’s good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is really guilty or at any rate is seriously believed to be guilty by the defamer. (

I think that one of the perquisites is the intent to divulge a fault of character or commission of a crime–correcting a student’s bad habits/grammar, in my opinion, does not qualify as a fault/crime.

Maran atha!



And to answer your next question you have yet to ask:


God is not out to get you, friend.


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