Impunity | Definition of Impunity by Merriam-Webster


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 For too long, ICE and CBP have acted with impunity—emboldened by a xenophobic Administration and the Occupant of this White House. Wilson Wong, NBC News, "Video of Black jogger stopped by ICE agents in Boston prompts calls for investigation," 8 Oct. 2020 Could $433,000, meted out over a decade, really buy that kind of impunity? Jesse Barron, New York Times, "What Happened Inside Ed Buck’s Apartment?," 16 Sep. 2020 Ties between local officials and gangs can also add to the culture of impunity that makes reporting so risky, according to Reporters without Borders. Natalie Gallón, CNN, "Another journalist found dead in Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries for reporters," 11 Sep. 2020 Regional lawmaker for the Pskov region and opposition politician Lev Shlosberg, blamed prosecutors’ failure to investigate the attack on Navalny for creating an atmosphere of impunity. Robyn Dixon, Washington Post, "Another Kremlin critic is attacked, as opposition leader Navalny recovers in German hospital," 31 Aug. 2020 Greece still—barely—claims membership in the all-business EU trading bloc, but it’s also a place where police get stalked and threatened, witnesses die in jail, and powerful interests can marionette the legal system with impunity. Alexander Clapp, The New Republic, "The Vampire Ship," 28 Sep. 2020 In this fertile ground for trafficking, criminal networks behind the trade often operate with impunity. Smita Sharma, National Geographic, "Stolen lives: The harrowing story of two girls sold into sexual slavery," 28 Sep. 2020 Thalidomide had been prescribed with impunity to thousands of pregnant women to alleviate the symptoms of morning sickness and had caused severe deformities in their babies, for which they had not been compensated. Klara Glowczewska, Town & Country, "Sir Harold Evans, in Memoriam: A Personal Remembrance of the Legendary Harry," 26 Sep. 2020 DeVaughn Walker, a City Heights resident who attended the late-afternoon protest outside the courthouse, said the decision released by the Kentucky grand jury proves that the laws in place allow for police to act with impunity. Alex Riggins, San Diego Union-Tribune, "San Diegans protests decision not to charge officers in Breonna Taylor killing," 23 Sep. 2020

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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Time Traveler for impunity

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The first known use of impunity was in 1532

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Last Updated

20 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Impunity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.

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English Language Learners Definition of impunity

: freedom from punishment, harm, or loss

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