im·​pu·​ni·​ty | \ im-ˈpyü-nə-tē How to pronounce impunity (audio) \

Definition of impunity

: exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss laws were flouted with impunity

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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).

Examples of impunity in a Sentence

she mistakenly believed that she could insult people with impunity
Recent Examples on the Web Roots of impunity Roughly the size of New Jersey, El Salvador is densely populated and highly connected by cellphone service and social media. Mneesha Gellman, The Conversation, "Deported to death: US sent 138 Salvadorans home to be killed," 6 Feb. 2020 Anyone who’s savvy enough and has enough resources can do exactly what Trump has done, and do it with impunity, and in a more damaging way, because there’s now a roadmap for doing it. Elizabeth Spiers, The New Republic, "Beyond Pelosi," 24 July 2019 Mexico ranks third from last of 69 countries measured for their levels of impunity, or how often someone can get away with breaking the law, the Las Americas study found. David Luhnow, WSJ, "Mexicans, Hit by Murder Wave, Face Long, Often Futile Wait for Justice," 25 Dec. 2018 Does it make sense that a person can burn an American flag with impunity but not a gay-pride flag? Myron Magnet, WSJ, "‘Hate Crime’ Is Only a Step Away From Thoughtcrime," 1 Jan. 2020 But the same atmosphere of impunity that may help him is under attack from some of the very people who once celebrated him as a folk hero. Vivian Yee, New York Times, "Carlos Ghosn, Fugitive but a Favorite Son, Returns to Beirut," 31 Dec. 2019 Violence breeds impunity, which breeds irresponsibility. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, "A Powerful Statement of Resistance from a College Student on Trial in Moscow," 7 Dec. 2019 Ebenezer Scrooge ain’t got nothing on your Alabama Supreme Court: Let the fight against corruption die, and increase the surplus … impunity of the powerful. John Archibald |, al, "Why honesty in government is doomed in Alabama," 2 Dec. 2019 This patronage relationship allows drug traffickers, evangelical or otherwise, to operate with impunity. Robert Muggah, The Conversation, "Evangelical gangs in Rio de Janeiro wage ‘holy war’ on Afro-Brazilian faiths," 16 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'impunity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of impunity

1532, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for impunity

Middle French or Latin; Middle French impunité, from Latin impunitat-, impunitas, from impune without punishment, from in- + poena punishment — more at pain entry 1

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The first known use of impunity was in 1532

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Last Updated

11 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Impunity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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English Language Learners Definition of impunity

: freedom from punishment, harm, or loss

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