(n.) corrupt behaviour in a position of trust
From events in Florida to the actions of disaster relief workers in Haiti, there’s been some awful news recently. In light of which, this week’s Word of the Week is the decidedly muted choice of malversation—a sixteenth century word meaning “corrupt behaviour in public office or a position of trust.”
Recorded as early as 1550 in English, malversation was likely borrowed into the language from French, but has its origins in malversari, meaning “to behave wrongly”.
The prefix mal– will be a familiar indication of a negative context thanks to words like malnutrition, malformation, malediction, and maladjustment. Its roots too lie in Latin, and are intertwined with the Latin malus, meaning “bad” or “evil”.
As for the rest of malversation, it comes from the Latin versari, meaning “to behave” or “conduct oneself” (although an alternative theory ties it to the Latin versare, meaning “to turn”). Either way, it’s clear the word relates from its very bones to the evil behaviour of one who should know or act better.