• malaise •
mê-layz • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A vague feeling of illness, physical uneasiness, light-headedness. 2. Moderate dysfunction, a vague state of trouble, troublous times.
Notes: Malaise has retained its French spelling since the 1700s. Remember the end of it looks like mayonnaise. It is a lexical orphan, no doubt, as a result.
In Play: When today's word applies to people, we hear things like this: "When Gwen walked out on Phil, he walked around in an ill-defined malaise for a week." But it may apply to anything that's supposed to work: "Unemployment is a good indicator of economic malaise."
Word History: Today's Good Word is Old French malaise "difficulty, hardship", composed of mal "bad, wrong" + aise "ease" (today it means "pleasure"). The Old French word for disease was désaise, for which English translated the prefix and stem separately (a "loan translation"): des- = dis- + aise = ease. French mal was inherited from Latin malus "bad, wrong", which Latin inherited from the Proto-Indo-European root mel-/mol- "false, bad, wrong". We see it in a series of words borrowed from Romance languages: malice, malevolent, malefactor. Aise was taken from Old French aise "physical comfort", probably from Vulgar Latin adiaces, an alteration of Latin adiacen(t)s, the present participle of adiacere "to lie near", comprising ad- "(up) to" + iacere "to throw", source also of English adjacent. Iacere came from the PIE word ye- "to throw", found outside Latin only in Hittite ijami "I make". (Potters "throw" pots on a spinning wheel in making them.) (Now comes the time to thank wordmaster Albert Skiles for yet another in more than a decade of Good Word suggestions.)
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