Misinformation is false information that’s given without malice, and disinformation is false information, such as government propaganda, that’s given with the intention to deceive.
To try to throw off the Germans, the British started releasing stories about how they were feeding their pilots so many carrots that it was improving their night vision.
Nobody knows whether the Germans believed the carrot stories, but historians do seem to think that the disinformation campaign contributed to the idea in both the British and German public consciousness that carrots are good for your eyesight, and there is evidence that some British people started eating carrots because they thought it would help them see during the blackouts. But this was just a side effect of the disinformation; carrots are good for your eyes, but eating carrots doesn’t actually improve your vision—day or night.
The “dis-“ prefix can have many negative or reversing meanings including “apart” and “away,” but the Oxford English Dictionary puts “disinformation” in the same category as the words “disease” and “dishonor,” for which the prefix gives a sense of the opposite of something or the lack or absence of something: the opposite of ease, the opposite of honor, and “disinformation” as the opposite of true information.
That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: Misinformation is false information that’s given without malice, and disinformation is false information, such as government propaganda, that’s meant to deceive people.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”