Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
July 2nd, 2016
Episode 573 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 2, 2016 is: defalcation \dee-fal-KAY-shun\ noun 1 : the act or an instance of embezzling 2 : a failure to meet a promise or an expectation Examples: "Early in my career, I uncovered a defalcationthat resulted from one individual having too much control over the cash handling process." — James Williams, quoted in The Washington Business Journal, 30 Jan. 2015 "The sum of $39,400 was borrowed on this line of credit, some of which was repaid using District funds. The defendants then conspired to conceal the borrowing to protect their employment and to conceal their own defalcations and thefts of District funds." — The Nevada Daily Mail, 25 May 2016 Did you know? "The tea table shall be set forth every morning with its customary bill of fare, and without any manner of defalcation." No reference to embezzlement there! This line, from a 1712 issue of Spectator magazine, is an example of the earliest, and now archaic, sense of defalcation, which is simply defined as "curtailment." Defalcation is ultimately from the Latin word falx, meaning "sickle," and it has been a part of English since the 1400s. It was used early on of monetary cutbacks (as in "a defalcation in their wages"), and by the 1600s it was used of most any sort of financial reversal (as in "a defalcation of public revenues"). Not till the mid-1800s, however, did defalcation refer to breaches of trust that cause a financial loss, or, specifically, to embezzlement.