Thu, 12 Dec 2019
Many ‘bene-’ words do have ‘male-’ opposites. For example, the opposite of a benefactor is a malefactor, the opposite of a benediction is a malediction, and the opposite of benevolence is malevolence. But strangely there is no ‘malefit’ that is opposite to ‘benefit’.
Or so I wrote, and then I thought I had better look it up.
The Big Dictionary has six examples, one as recent as 1989 and one as early as 1755:
(Charlotte Charke, A narrative of the life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke (youngest daughter of Colley Cibber, Esq.), 1755.)
(I think the “benefit” here is short for “benefit performance”, an abbreviation we still use today.)
Mrs. Charke seems to be engaging in intentional wordplay. All but one of the other citations similarly suggest intentional wordplay; for example:
(P. Howard, Word in Your Ear, 1983.)
The one exception is from no less a person than J.R.R. Tolkien:
(Around 1973, Quoted in C. Tolkien, History of Middle-earth: Sauron Defeated, 1992.)
Incidentally, J.R.R. is quoted 362 times in the Big Dictionary.