Saturday, September 14, 2013


Jeff from Traverse City asked where the prefix mal- came from, as in malcontent, malnutrition, and malware.

It came to us from the Latin, where the adjective malus meant bad, wrong, or improper. No newcomer, it’s been used in English for centuries but is still quite useful, as the word malware shows. Malware is a computer program written with the intent to disrupt or harm the machine into which it is inserted. It’s an umbrella term for spyware, virus, worm, and so forth. The word is probably a blend of malicious and software.

The idea of impropriety, poor functioning, evil, or corruption is deep-seated in human experience if repeated word parts are a legitimate measure. A few common and uncommon ways of expressing it are encased in the following forms:
  • dys-  dyslexia, dysentery
  • caco-  cacophony, cacology
  • kaki-  kakistocracy, kakistocratical
  • kako-  kakodaimon, kakodoxy
  • perv-  perversion, pervert
  • ponero-  ponerology, ponerologist
  • prav-  depraved, depravity
  • turp-  turpitude, turpitudinous
  • vitia-  vitiate, vitiated

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

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