Printable Version
Pronunciation: mæl-fee-zêns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Wrongful conduct of an office, official misconduct.

Notes: Today's Good Word is the noun from the adjective malfeasant, which may also be used as a noun referring to a malfeasant office-holder. Malfeasor existed long ago, but it is now considered obsolete. This word has a synonym, misfeasance, from Old French mesfaisance, but the personal noun for this word is misfeasor.

In Play: Since today's word means "wrongful conduct in office", no need to say "misfeasance in office": "News media have always been the last bastion against political incompetence and misfeasance." Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish malfeasance from incompetence: "Jerry Mander lost his last election because he was under indictment on 12 charges of malfeasance."

Word History: Malfeasance was borrowed from French malfaisance "wrongdoing" from malfaisant, comprising mal "bad, wrong" + faisant "doing", the present participle of faire "to do". Mal is the French reduction of Latin malus "bad, evil", which derives from PIE mel-/mol- "false, bad, wrong". We see the Latin root in a plethora of English words borrowed from Latin and its descendant French, like malign, malady, malevolent and dismal. Faire descended from facere "to do", the Latin descendant of PIE dhe-/dho- "to set, put, do", also the origin of English do and deed, and, with the suffix -m, doom. (Rob Towart thought that the frequent repetitions of this word in the news call for more attention to it here.)

Dr. Goodword,

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