What It Means
: exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss
impunity in Context
"Rather than subsidizing transportation that serves few, disturbs many and pollutes with impunity, money could be directed toward green transportation that serves everyone." — Anne Wilson, letter in The Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado), 26 Jan. 2021
"Throughout the cruise, many of the officers had expressed their abhorrence of the impunity with which the most extensive plantations of hair were cultivated under their very noses; and they frowned upon every beard with even greater dislike. They said it was unseamanlike; not ship-shape; in short, it was disgraceful to the Navy." — Herman Melville, White-Jacket, 1850
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. An illustrative example from 1660 penned by Englishman Roger Coke reads: "This unlimited power of doing anything with impunity, will only beget a confidence in kings of doing what they [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: "The local hollies seem to have lots of berries this year.… A single one won't harm you, but eating a handful would surely make you pretty sick, and might kill you. Birds such as robins, mockingbirds, and cedar waxwings eat them with impunity." (Karl Anderson, The Gloucester County Times, 22 Dec. 2002).
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Word Family Quiz
What 4-letter verb beginning with "p" is a descendant of Latin poena and can mean "to yearn intensely"?VIEW THE ANSWER
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