• impunity
  • audio pronunciation
  • \im-PYOO-nuh-tee\
  • DEFINITION

noun

: exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss
  • EXAMPLES

Penalties for breaking the law can be made harsher, but without extra funding for its enforcement, people will continue to violate it with impunity.

"Carlos Zarate, a congressman who sits on the Philippine House of Representatives' Human Rights Committee, said in an interview Tuesday that the arrest of General Palparan did not signal an end to the problem of security forces committing abuses with impunity." — Floyd Whaley, The New York Times, August 13, 2014

  • DID YOU KNOW?

Impunity (like the words pain, penal, and punish) traces to the Latin noun poena, meaning "punishment." The Latin word, in turn, came from Greek poinē, meaning "payment" or "penalty." People acting with impunity have prompted use of the word since the 1500s, as in this 1660 example by Englishman Roger Coke: "This unlimited power of doing anything with impunity, will only beget a confidence in kings of doing what they list [desire]." While royals may act with impunity more easily than others, the word impunity can be applied to the lowliest of beings as well as the loftiest: "Certain beetles have learned to detoxify [willow] leaves in their digestive tract so they can eat them with impunity" (Smithsonian, September 1986).

Word Family Quiz: What 4-letter verb beginning with "p" is a descendant of Latin poena and can mean "to yearn intensely"? The answer is …

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