word-forming element of Latin origin meaning "bad, badly, ill, poorly, wrong, wrongly," from French mal (adv.), from Old French mal (adj., adv.) "evil, ill, wrong, wrongly" (9c.), from Latin male (adv.) "badly," or malus (adj.) "bad, evil" (fem. mala, neuter malum), from Proto-Italic *malo-, from PIE *mol-o-, probably from PIE root *mel- (3) "false, bad, wrong."
Most Modern English words with this element are 19c. coinages. It generally implies imperfection or deficiency, but often it is simply negative (as in malfeasance, malcontent). It is equivalent to dys- and caco- of Greek origin and Germanic mis- (1).