What does ‘suborned’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: suborned…

I’d heard the word a million or so times (probably in every episode of Law & Order I ever watched) but I still didn’t know the meaning of  suborned.

It typically appears in a sentence going something like this: “He was accused of conspiring to suborn witnesses.” Most recently, however, I saw it in a sentence from John LeCarré’s memoir Pigeon Tunnel. Here’s how LeCarré used it:

My writers were being shadowed, their phones were being tapped, their cars and houses bugged, neighbours suborned.

The verb means to induce someone to do an unlawful thing or to induce someone to commit perjury (or to obtain perjured testimony from a witness.)

The word dates back to the 1530s, from the Middle French word suborner, meaning to “seduce, instigate or bribe.” And, in turn, this word comes from the Latine  subornare, which translates literally as “to secretly furnish or equip.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the word is fequently employed these days in articles and blog posts about US president Donald Trump. In a recent New York Intelligencer piece, for example, Jonathan Chait observed, “Imagine a president willing and able to suborn criminality on his behalf.”