On a surface level, it seems like the noun disinformation is just the prefix dis- attached to the word information, but there's a lot more to it than just that. It's actually a 1950s borrowing modeled on the Russian word dezinformatsiya, which was coined by Joseph Stalin in 1923 to describe the Soviet spy tactic of spreading false information in foreign countries to confuse and deceive the public. The term was used as the name of a KGB "black propaganda" department, and was only really popularized in the United States around the mid-1980s, when it was revealed that the Reagan administration used disinformation tactics to interfere in Libya. Funnily enough, the very use of disinformation is a product of disinformation: Stalin introduced the French-based dezinformatsiya to replace the previous word for the strategy, maskirovka, to make it seem like it was originally a Western European practice.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.