Trend Watch


The word used to mean 'forgotten', but has since changed to mean 'the act by which pardon is granted'


Janury 28, 2016

Amnesty spiked during the most recent GOP debate, as several candidates sought to paint one or more of their opponents as being open to the idea of political amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

Amnesty means 'the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.' It comes from the Greek amnēstia, a word which means "forgotten."

However, the first sense of amnesty in English was much closer to its Greek root than to its present day meaning; when it began to be used in 1580 the word referred primarily to an intentional forgetfulness, and later took on the meaning of ‘official pardon’. Another word in English, oblivion, has travelled a very similar path: the first meaning of oblivion was that of 'forgetfulness', and it later came to have the additional meaning of 'general pardon, amnesty', especially when used in the phrase 'Act of oblivion'.

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