de·​fal·​ca·​tion | \ ˌdē-ˌfal-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce defalcation (audio) , ˌdē-ˌfȯl-, di-; ˌde-fəl- \

Definition of defalcation

1 archaic : deduction
2 : the act or an instance of embezzling
3 : a failure to meet a promise or an expectation

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"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," 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.

First Known Use of defalcation

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of defalcation was in the 15th century

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Cite this Entry

“Defalcation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for defalcation


de·​fal·​ca·​tion | \ ˌdē-ˌfal-ˈkā-shən, -ˌfȯl-, di-; ˌde-fəl-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce defalcation (audio) \

Legal Definition of defalcation

1 : failure to account for or pay over money that has been entrusted to one's care also : an instance of such failure — compare embezzle, misappropriate

Note: Defalcation does not necessarily involve culpability or misconduct.

2 : a failure to meet a promise or expectation the school committee's defalcations did not end with its refusal to submit a desegregation plan— S. L. Lynch

History and Etymology for defalcation

earlier, deduction, lessening, shortcoming, from Medieval Latin defalcatio discounting of debt, from defalcare to cut down, deduct, from Latin de- away from + falc-, falx sickle


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