I seem to be noticing this one entering the popular lexicon lately, but cannot find a good definition.


Usually used in a debate, it seems to suggest that someone is twisting or misconstruing someone else's statement. Of course, it comes from the adjective verbal, but seems to mean something different.


8 Answers 8


Both the examples you've given support this definition from Wiktionary


verballing (uncountable)

1.The putting of damaging remarks into the mouths of suspects during police interrogation

In the Leake case, Dawkins insists that Leake put words into his mouth, i.e. misquoted him greatly.

I wonder if this has originated or is common usage in Australia as you've given an SMH (Sydney Morning Herald) example and another example I find here which states

The next day Labor's John Faulkner takes Costello's words and puts them in Howard's mouth

and more examples here and here from Australian media articles. One of them defines it thus

Here in the free world we have strong laws to protect criminal suspects from confessions which are obtained by ‘verballing‘ that is, off-the-record threats, intimidation or physical violence being used by the police to elicit incriminating statements from a suspect.

  • 1
    I might be an Australian thing - I hadn't considered that. It's unusual - we usually invent insults! Jul 5, 2011 at 8:01
  • The last link is broken
    – Laurel
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:47

I can't recall ever hearing it, but the verb verbal is in the OED:

colloquial transitive To attribute a damaging statement to (an accused or suspected person). Also const. up.

Their first quotation is from The Times (London) of 1963:

Those chaps were about and they won't be able to verbal me.

The three later quotations are all in a police context, and one is from a Brisbane, Australia newspaper.


My understanding from law school is that this phrase originated in the State of Queensland in Australia where police corruption was endemic in the 1970s/80s.

The Fitzgerald Report (A Royal Commission in to Government and Police Corruption) dedicated a whole chapter to 'verballing' in its 1987 report.

See page 206 of the volume.

  • Long live Australia! :)
    – Lambie
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:50

Literally it was the practice of police to write a transcript of a verbal statement that was not precisely what the suspect actually said at interview. The suspect would sign it either without checking thoroughly or without realising the incriminating details that were included or aware of the contents but signing under threat or coercion. It is common in Australia to now be used as a metaphor by someone alleging that they are being 'verballed', that is, deliberately misquoted or quoted out of context by an opponent to make it appear that they said something they did not intend.

  • Hugo's post backs up your answer, which is why I upvoted!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 28, 2014 at 7:17

I can't say I have seen verballing or verballed before. However, on Free Dictionary the definition of verbal or balling is pretty much the same as you said, but it's said to only be in use with police. Also, since I had never heard of it, I looked it up on Urban Dictionary, but there they don't even mention the need for it to be police who do the action. I agree with you, verballing implies "someone is twisting or misconstruing someone else's statement". Definitely a negative connotation that isn't apparent in verbal.

  • Since you mentioned "balling," that made me wonder... I suppose this is pronounced like "balling" but with "ver" tacked on the front as opposed to "verbal" with "ing" added on?
    – UtopiaLtd
    Jul 5, 2011 at 7:49
  • @UtopiaLtd good question! After I wrote 'balling' I started thinking about how rap stars say they are 'balling' which I'm pretty sure isn't the same as 'verballing'
    – Istable
    Jul 5, 2011 at 10:09

The two before me have defined what "verballing" means, but I just want to add that "verballing" does come from "verbal." It comes from "verbal" being used as a verb, and it means:

(transitive, UK, Australian) To fabricate a confession


verbal (third-person singular simple present verbals, present participle verballing,

Thus, "verballing" would be to 'fabricate someone making something up about what someone said'.

Definition of "verballing":


Verballing is an old Australian police practice of writing a confession to a crime without the courtesy of consulting the suspect on points of detail, such as whether they actually did it. It saves paperwork and time if you are lazy, and if the magistrate will collude in accepting it, as concocted confessions can be far more incriminating than real ones. Something like Stalin's show trials, although I'm not sure if verballed statements had to be signed by the purported author.


I can confirm that 'to verbal' (The putting of damaging remarks into the mouths of suspects during police interrogation) was common parlance in the UK criminal justice system and police in the Seventies.

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