re·​cid·​i·​vism ri-ˈsi-də-ˌvi-zəm How to pronounce recidivism (audio)
: a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior
especially : relapse into criminal behavior

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The re- in recidivism is the same re- in relapse and return, and like those words recidivism is about going back: it’s a tendency to relapse, especially into criminal behavior. Recidivism is a 19th century French borrowing that’s ultimately from a Latin word meaning “to relapse into sin or crime.” In borrowing recidivism, English was itself engaging in a kind of recidivism: the same Latin source of recidivism had been nabbed in the 16th century to form the much less common recidivate, meaning “to fall into or exhibit recidivism.”

Examples of recidivism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web For goodness’ sake, Germany’s recidivism rate is an enviable 5%. John L. Evans Jr, Orlando Sentinel, 7 July 2024 This is notably lower than the nationwide recidivism rate, which RTA estimates is over 60% of people returning to prison within three years of release. Arturo Conde, NBC News, 3 July 2024 Other states with clean slate laws have also shown low recidivism rates for beneficiaries of record expungement. Jaden Edison, Hartford Courant, 26 Mar. 2024 Second Chance Month is new, but concerns about job prospects, losing the right to vote, and high recidivism rates for the formerly incarcerated are not. JSTOR Daily, 24 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for recidivism 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'recidivism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French récidivisme, from récidiver "to reappear (of a disease, tumor, etc.), do over, commit a second criminal offense" (going back to Middle French, borrowed from Medieval Latin recidīvāre "to relapse into sin or crime") + -isme -ism — more at recidivate

First Known Use

1884, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of recidivism was in 1884


Dictionary Entries Near recidivism

Cite this Entry

“Recidivism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Medical Definition


re·​cid·​i·​vism ri-ˈsid-ə-ˌviz-əm How to pronounce recidivism (audio)
: a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior
high recidivism rates after cessation of smokingA. E. Kazdin et al.

Legal Definition


re·​cid·​i·​vism ri-ˈsi-də-ˌvi-zəm How to pronounce recidivism (audio)
: relapse into criminal behavior

More from Merriam-Webster on recidivism

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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