I've heard a single word before that means "withholding medicine from a sick person" or "withholding food from a starving person" or "refusing to alert an airplane pilot flying in the dark that he's about to crash into a mountain". The basic idea is not taking some action knowing that inaction will later lead to harm for another person.

I thought for sure there was a single word for this (and it's more malicious than "negligence"). What is it?

3 Answers 3


Perhaps you are referring to omission: a failure to do something, esp. something that one has a moral or legal obligation to do.

Synonyms: negligence, neglect, neglectfulness, dereliction, forgetfulness, oversight, default, lapse, failure.

Perhaps you have heard of sins of *o*mission, as opposed to sins of *co*mmission. People have a moral obligation to do the right thing. If they do the wrong thing, they have committed a bad act. If they fail to act when it is called for, they are to blame for what they did not do.

  • That's probably as good as I'm going to get, thanks. Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 6:38

Are you thinking of malevolent perhaps?

  • 'Malevolent' is far more general than what OP is asking about.
    – JAM
    Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 1:57
  • Maybe I'm just imagining it, but I thought English had a word for this more specific than "malevolent" or "malfeasance". Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 5:13
  • @AlexHenrie malpractice : improper, illegal, or negligent professional activity or treatment, especially by a medical practitioner, lawyer, or public official.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 14:38

Are you thinking of "malfeasance"? The first examples suggest "deprivation," and that, too, is malicious. But deprivation doesn't fit the case of not alerting someone.

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