The Latin root word mal means “bad” or “evil.”
Let’s first of all talk about the root mal when it means “bad.” Doctors have to deal with all kinds of problems that have the root word mal in them. For instance, someone may have a malfunctioning kidney, which is “badly” functioning. They may have to treat someone who has contracted malaria; doctors once believed that people could come down with malaria if they breathed in “bad” air. A baby may be born with a malformed or “badly” formed organ which may need immediate attention. Doctors may have to treat a child who is suffering from malnutrition, or “bad” nutrition. A surgeon might have to operate on someone with a malignant tumor, which is “bad” because it’s cancerous. Lastly, an unlucky physician may be subject to a malpractice suit if his work was “badly” done.
Latin once again heavily influenced the Romance languages with the root mal: the Spanish words mal, malo, and mala, the French mal, and the Italian male all have something to do with “badness.”
A more sinister meaning of mal is “evil.” The word dismal derived from the Latin dies malus meaning “evil day;” it is easy to see why the word dismal came from this. A malicious person does not think twice about performing “evil” deeds to hurt other people. A malefactor, or "evil"doer, is the opposite of a benefactor. Someone who is maleficent fully intends to do “evil.” When you malign another, you say “evil” things about him; that is, you act in a malignant, or “evil” fashion.
Let’s end with a friendly benediction instead of a malediction: may mal no longer be “evil” or “bad” towards your vocabulary knowledge, but rather alert you to the fact that you might want to avoid anything in your path that needs a mal root word to describe it!
- malfunction: when something is functioning ‘badly’
- malaria: a disease originally thought to be caused by ‘bad’ air
- malformed: ‘badly’ shaped
- malnutrition: a condition of ‘bad’ nutrition
- malnourished: ‘badly’ nourished
- malignant: of a “bad” tumor or of someone disposed to do “evil”
- malpractice: ‘bad’ medical practice
- dismal: etymologically of an ‘evil’ day
- malicious: prone to do ‘evil’
- malefactor: one who does ‘evil’ things
- maleficent: a tendency to do ‘evil’ deeds
- malign: speak ‘evil’ about