The Joy of Language Learning

A Few Malicious Words

Our world is an odd mixture of the good and the bad. While numerous acts of kindness are done on a daily basis, equally numerous acts of crime are committed as well, for each of our playful mischiefs our mothers have a new pair of slippers and for every word in English that represents goodness there is a word that oozes evil. The good thing about the last point though is that the words that mean harm mean you no harm and an acquaintance with them will only serve to enhance your vocabulary. Moreover, most such words have a common link – the root ‘mal’.

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‘Mal’ has been derived from the Latin word malus, meaning bad or wretched. It is not an independent word in the English language anymore but its influence can be seen in a variety of words.

Let’s start with an interesting one: Malaria. Most should know that it is the name of a disease caused by mosquitoes. But malaria is made up of two distinct words – mal (bad) and aria (air), essentially meaning bad air. This is because during the early ages, malaria was thought to be caused due to bad air as opposed to mosquito bites. Owing to this connection, we still have the word malady in our dictionaries as a synonym for disease.

The words previously mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s dive a bit deeper and meet others. Malice is a strong desire to inflict harm or suffering. Its adjective form is malicious (the intention to harm). If someone or something is maleficent, they are meant to cause harm or destruction. For example, Greek mythology is home to a lot of maleficent deities. A malefaction refers to a crime or bad deed while malefactor is the person who commits the crime. A malfeasance refers to a wrongdoing by a public official. Malediction (a phrase uttered with the intention of causing harm) is born when the word diction, meaning speech, is added to our root word.

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A few words derived from the same root are used to signify deviations from normalcy. For example, Malnutrition (lack of nutrition generally caused due to the lack of food) is a common disease that plagues children, especially in the poorer regions of the world. Similarly, a malformation refers to an abnormally formed body part.

Thus, even a word as evil as malicious did not hurt when it assimilated into your vocabulary. There are many more words like these but those will be included in our discussions some other time. For now, let’s have a test to gauge your level of understanding these words.

Table Summary:

MalariaA disease caused due to mosquitoes
MalignTo defame
MaliceStrong desire to inflict harm or suffering
MalefactorCriminal; Someone who commits a crime
MalefactionA crime or bad deed
MaliciousThe intention to harm
MalfeasanceA crime done by a public official
MaledictionPhrase uttered with the intention of causing harm
Mal-NutritionLack of nutrition
Mal-FormationAbnormal formation

Welcome to A Malicious Quiz

Tuberculosis was once considered an untreatable ________________.

What does "malicious" mean in the headline:

Source: Times Of India

He left, muttering [maledictions] against them. The bracketed words mean the same as:

What does "malign" mean in the given headline?


A few children are born with spinal _________________ like extended tail bone and bent backs.

"Malnutrition" in the given headline means:


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