Normalcy vs. Normality

Some words, when I hear them spoken, just make me grit my teeth. Probably number one on my list is the word “drug,” when speaking of the act of dragging something. The proper form is, of course, dragged, but only about one time out a hundred do you hear it said properly.

Another word that bothers me, though it has become an accepted form, is “normalcy.” You hear it used in speeches, everyday conversation, and on television news shows. I still prefer “normality” though, as it’s generally recognized as the older and more preferable word to use.

Normality and normalcy are different forms of the same word. Normality is centuries older, though, and most English authorities consider it the superior form. In fact, normalcy is almost always heard in American English, not in British English.

Nouns ending in -cy usually come from adjectives ending in -t—for example, pregnancy from pregnant, complacency from complacent, hesitancy from hesitant—while adjectives ending in -l usually take the -ity suffix. Normalcy is unique in flouting this convention.

Normalcy was popularized in the early 20th century thanks to President Warren G. Harding’s “return to normalcy” campaign slogan, though the word did exist before then, and language authorities have been unable to stamp it out.


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