Word of The Day for Monday, January 24, 2011


de•fal•ca•tion (dee-fal-KEY-shuhn)  n

1. misappropriation of money or funds held by an official, trustee, or other fiduciary
2. the sum misappropriated

defalcate verb

1425–75; from M.L. defalcationem (nom. defalcatio), from pp. stem of defalcare, from de- + L. falx, falcem "sickle, scythe, pruning hook"

Synonyms: misappropriation, misuse, peculation, pilferage; deficiency, insufficiency, shortfall, underage
Related Words: falcon, falcate

Sentence Examples:
• And now, when it came to the turn of any servant, he received sixty-nine shillings instead of seventy, and the cause of the defalcation was explained to him. I never saw one of those servants without feeling I had picked his pocket. -Autobiography of Anthony Trollope

• A strict responsibility on the part of all the agents of the Government should be maintained and peculation or defalcation visited with immediate expulsion from office and the most condign punishment.  -A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents: Tyler

• Not income tax evasion by bankers but downright defalcation was the subject when the Senate sub-committee investigating the closing of Manhattan's Harriman National Bank got John William Pole, onetime Comptroller of the Currency, before it. The committee wanted to know why he had not personally investigated the case of Joseph Wright Harriman, accused of crockery. -Trial by Whisper, Time 1933

The Storyline
Anna felt stretched and divided past all tolerance. Moments earlier she had stumbled across a possible defalcation in one of the cashiers' drawer. Now this.

Why This Word:

"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" (a tool for cutting), 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. 

Sources: Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster

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