early 15c., in law, "wrong action; a failure, offense or illegal act," especially on the part of a public official, from Anglo-French misprisoun, mesprisioun "mistake, error, wrong action or speech," (Old French mesprision "mistake, wrongdoing, fault, blame, crime"), from mespris, past participle of mesprendre "to mistake, act wrongly, trespass, transgress, break a law," from mes- "wrongly" (see mis- (2)) + prendre "take," from Latin prendere, contracted from prehendere "to seize" (from prae- "before," see pre-, + -hendere, from PIE root *ghend- "to seize, take").
In general, "criminal neglect in respect to the crime of another," especially in connection with felonies, to indicate a passive complicity, as by concealment. In 16c., misprision of treason was used for lesser degrees of guilt (those not subject to capital punishment), especially for knowing of treasonable actions or plots without assenting to them, but not informing the authorities. This led to the common supposition in legal writers that the word means etymologically "failure to denounce" a crime.
updated on January 30, 2019