EVEN BEFORE many Americans knew they were suffering from it, the political diagnosticians reported that a "malaise" was sweeping the country. Already it is said to have afflicted President Carter's standing, if not his running; and according to a front-page article yesterday, the epidemic is now world-wide: under a three-column headline, "Malaise Threatens Begin's Coalition," we learn that Menachem Begin, besides being "hounded by persistent, albeit often inaccurate reports of his deteriorating health," seems to "represent a malaise that has spread through his Cabinet and, indeed, among many of Isreal's 3.5 million inhabitants." This, obviously, is more than chicken soup can handle.

Though a report by the World Health Organization is not expected to be complete for some time, experts studying the symptoms of malaise suspect it has a French connection to another often abused and overdosed word, "detente." The strains of malaise are many and communicable, usually marked by fits of inertia and sporadic attacks of ennui. In crowded urban areas, it has affected the ability of city governments to function, a reaction often described as "mal de mayor." Among the people most susceptible to the disease are those who travel in economic circles: after about the eighth circle, they get it.

Malaisian flu will no doubt continue to cause massive political paralysis at home and abroad. It's enough to make us English-speakers downright uneasy.