I just heard James Oberstar (D-Minn.) chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee spokesman accuse the Federal Aviation Agency of both misfeasance and malfeasance. Here’s the comment as reported in the Los Angeles Times:
“The FAA would have us believe this was an isolated incident and that the damage is contained, that it was attributable to a rogue individual,” Oberstar said. Instead, he said, the congressional investigation shows “a systematic breakdown” in the FAA’s culture, resulting in “misfeasance, malfeasance, bordering on corruption.”
Mr. Oberstar might in his turn be accused of overabundance, overflow, overmuch, overplus, superfluity, surfeit, and overkill in his choice of words.
Unless, of course, he’s a lawyer, in which case he does see a difference between misfeasance and malfeasance.
The words are similar in origin as well as in meaning.
Misfeasance is from Middle French mesfaisance. The mes part is a negative and faisance is from faire “to do” or “to make.” The person guilty of misfeasance is literally “making bad.”
Here are some definitions of misfeasance:
• a wrong action
• the performance of a lawful action in an illegal or improper manner
• wrong or improper conduct in public office
Malfeasance combines the English prefix mal (bad) with Middle English feasance which was from Middle French faisance.
Definitions of malfeasance:
• wrongdoing, misconduct, misbehavior
• specifically, the misuse of authority by a public officer – called also malpractice
• an act or instance of wrongdoing especially by a public officer under color of authority of his office
According to the site wisegeek:
Malfeasance is a legal term that refers to an individual intentionally performing an act that is illegal.
Misfeasance, is a legal act performed wrongfully. That is, a public official or a lawyer (or an FAA agent) may do something that is not illegal but is mistaken or erroneous.
This site presents a third term:
Nonfeasance , which is closely related to misfeasance, is the failure to act even though a duty to act existed.
Even for lawyers, the terms blur at the edges:
Due to disagreement over the exact meaning of malfeasance, the definitions of malfeasance and misfeasance sometimes overlap. As a result, malfeasance can also sometimes refer to negligent acts that were committed out of ignorance and not just to those that were committed intentionally.
Whatever the FAA is guilty of, it’s not good.
More at wisegeek.com