Vocab Builder: Bad to the Word

English has lots of words to describe the horrid things people do to one another. The prefix mal-, meaning bad or evil (also faulty, unpleasant, or not), heads up plenty of those words. Mal- comes from the Old French mal, meaning “evil, ill, wrong, wrongly.” Says Online Etymology Dictionary, “Most Mod.Eng. words with this prefix are 19c. coinages (malnutrition, malodorous, etc.).” Let’s take a look at a few.

  • malefactor, noun: criminal, evildoer.

When toxins pop up in the food supply and kill people, here, too, the search for a malefactor aligns with the public interest. —Huffington Post

  • malevolent, adjective: having an ill will toward others.

But he was the figurehead of a malevolent force in the world that seeks only death and misery. —Suburban Life Publications

  • malign, verb: to speak evil things about someone.

Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, who has been fighting to get justice for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots, said there has been a systematic attempt to malign her efforts for the last nine years. —Gulf News

  • malfeasance, noun: illegal acts or wrongdoing by public official.

Wisconsin’s malfeasance was unrelated to deficits; it was union busting. Period. —Billings Gazette

  • malicious, adjective: spiteful, full of harm for others.

Five people were charged with malicious burning and other charges are pending. –WBOY-TV

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About Erin Brenner

With a BA and an MA in English, Erin has been an editing professional for 15 years, working on a variety of media, especially online. Her niche is business/marketing and online. In addition, she has experience teaching editing to non-editors and coaching writers. In 2008, Erin was bitten by the social media bug...hard. Follow her on Twitter, @ebrenner, and get a daily vocabulary word, a link to the article of the day, and much more. You can also find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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