5. If a person gives nick names to his friends at random (e.g. he called an acquaintance "fatty pig"), has he incurred any liability for defamation?
Any words that may tend to cause a person to be hated or despised defame him. However, as pointed out in Gatley on Libel and Slander (10 th Edition ), words that may expose a person to ridicule may present some difficulty in deciding if the words are defamatory. Some degree of humour at the expense of others may be part of normal life. Words that do not diminish one's standing with others cannot be relied on as grounds for commencing a defamation lawsuit.
In a British case ( Berkoff v Burchill & Anor.) , Berkoff, a well-known actor, director and writer, was referred to in one article as a “notoriously hideous-looking person” . In the second article, a character in the film called "the Creature" was referred to and equated to the plaintiff by “[the Creature]'s a lot like [Berkoff], only marginally better-looking” . The plaintiff claimed that the statements made were defamatory as they meant and were understood to mean that Berkoff was “hideously ugly” . Application was made to dismiss the action on the grounds that the statements might only cause injury to feeling or cause annoyance, which was irrelevant to an action for defamation. However, the Court was of the view that to make such a statement about someone in the public eyes who made his living as an actor could be considered defamatory, since the statement was capable of lowering the actor's standing in the estimation of a right-thinking member of the public and capable of making him an object of ridicule. The Court ruled that it was inappropriate to withdraw the matter from the consideration of a jury.
Legally speaking, if a nick name used to refer to, or to address, another person is capable of lowering a person's standing in the estimation of the public and of making that person an object of ridicule, the victim can use this as grounds for instituting defamation proceedings.
However, in practice, when you consider the level of damage/suffering together with the potential costs in legal fees and time, it may not be rational to commence a defamation lawsuit over an unwanted nick name.