bad, evil

Quick Summary

The Latin root word mal means “bad” or “evil.” This root is the word origin of many English vocabulary words, including malformed, maltreat, and malice. You can recall that mal means “bad” through malfunction, or a “badly” working part, and that it means “evil” through malice, or intentional “evil” done to another.

Mal Mauls

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!

  1. malfunction: when something is functioning ‘badly’
  2. malaria: a disease originally thought to be caused by ‘bad’ air
  3. malformed: ‘badly’ shaped
  4. malnutrition: a condition of ‘bad’ nutrition
  5. malnourished: ‘badly’ nourished
  6. malignant: of a “bad” tumor or of someone disposed to do “evil”
  7. malpractice: ‘bad’ medical practice
  8. dismal: etymologically of an ‘evil’ day
  9. malicious: prone to do ‘evil’
  10. malefactor: one who does ‘evil’ things
  11. maleficent: a tendency to do ‘evil’ deeds
  12. malign: speak ‘evil’ about


  • malfeasance

    Malfeasance is an unlawful act, especially one committed by a trusted public official.

  • malinger

    If someone is malingering he or she is trying to avoid work by pretending to be ill.

  • malaise

    Malaise is a feeling of discontent, general unease, or even illness in a person or group for which there does not seem to be a quick and easy solution because the cause of it is not clear.

  • malice

    Malice is the strong desire to harm someone physically or emotionally because you hate them.

  • malady

    A malady is a serious illness; it can also be used to refer to serious and widespread problems within a society or an organization.

  • maleficent

    Something or someone that is maleficent deliberately tries to cause harm or evil.

  • malign

    If you malign someone, you say unpleasant things about them to damage their reputation.

  • malevolent

    A malevolent person or thing is evil due to deliberate attempts to cause harm.

  • malapropism

    A malapropism is an unintentional and usually humorous mistake you make when you use a word that sounds similar to the word you actually intended to use but means something completely different.

  • malignant

    Something malignant, like a tumor or hardened criminal, does great harm or is lethal.

  • dismal

    A dismal situation is gloomy, depressing, hopeless, or miserable.

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