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From Middle French atrocité, from Latin atrox (terrible, cruel), from āter (matte black).


  • IPA(key): /əˈtɹɒsɪti/
  • enPR: ə-trŏs'ĭ-tē
  • Audio (US):(file)
  • Rhymes: -ɒsɪti



atrocity (countable and uncountable, plural atrocities)

  1. (countable) An extremely cruel act; a horrid act of injustice.
    to carry out / commit / perpetrate an atrocity
    The regime is guilty of mass atrocities including forced displacement and the use of chemical weapons.
    • 1662, William Pynchon, The Covenant of Nature Made with Adam[1], London, Chapter 11, Section 3, p. 277:
      [] it seemed an atrocity or cruelty to Narses a good General, to take punishment of innoxious Hostages:
    • 1795, Helen Maria Williams, Letters Containing a Sketch of the Politics of France[2], London: G. G. and J. Robinson, Letter 4, p. 61:
      It was impossible for the convention to suffer the crimes they had committed, and the still greater atrocities which they had meditated, to pass unnoticed.
    • 1855, Frederick Douglass, chapter 8, in My Bondage and My Freedom. [], New York, Auburn, N.Y.: Miller, Orton & Mulligan [], →OCLC, part I (Life as a Slave), page 123:
      This devilish outrage, this fiendish murder, produced, as it was well calculated to do, a tremendous sensation. [] The atrocity roused my old master, and he spoke out, in reprobation of it;
    • 1887, Arthur Conan Doyle, chapter 7, in A Study in Scarlet[3], New York and London: Street & Smith, page 87:
      “Any delay in arresting the assassin,” I observed, “might give him time to perpetrate some fresh atrocity.”
    • 1943, Declaration of the Four Nations on General Security:
      The United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union have received from many quarters evidence of atrocities, massacres and cold-blooded mass executions which are being perpetrated by Hitlerite forces in many of the countries they have overrun and from which they are now being steadily expelled.
  2. (uncountable) The quality or state of being atrocious; enormous wickedness; extreme criminality or cruelty.
    Synonyms: atrociousness, brutality, heinousness
    • 1553, John Bradford, letter, in Miles Coverdale (ed.), Certain Most Godly, Fruitful, and Comfortable letters, London: John Day, 1564, pp. 481-482,[4]
      Thys wil I muse on, & way with my self, [tha]t I may dulye knowe, both in me and in al other things, the atrocitie and bitternesse of synne which dwelleth in me, & so may the more hartely geue ouer my self wholy to [th]e lord Christ my Sauiour,
    • 1759, Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments[5], London: A. Millar, Part 1, Section 3, Chapter 4, p. 81:
      What character is so detestable as that of one who takes pleasure to sow dissention among friends, and to turn their most tender love into mortal hatred? Yet wherein does the atrocity of this so much abhorred injury consist? [] It is in depriving them of that friendship itself, in robbing them of each others affections []
    • 1843, William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico[6], New York: Harper, Volume 2, Book 4, Chapter 8, p. 284:
      an apology devised after the commission of the deed, to cover up its atrocity
    • 1875, Anthony Trollope, chapter 68, in The Way We Live Now[7], volume II, London: Chapman and Hall, []:
      Here was one who had spent his life in lying to the world, and who was in his very heart shocked at the atrocity of a man who had lied to him!
    • 1904, Joseph Conrad, Nostromo[8], New York: Harper, Part 1, Chapter 8, p. 119:
      Hernandez [] had been an inoffensive, small ranchero, kidnapped with circumstances of peculiar atrocity from his home during one of the civil wars, and forced to serve in the army.
  3. (countable) An object considered to be extremely unattractive or undesirable.
    Synonym: abomination
    • 1870–1871 (date written), Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], chapter XLIII, in Roughing It, Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company [et al.], published 1872, →OCLC, page 300:
      [S]ome of the printers were good singers and others good performers on the guitar and on that atrocity the accordeon—[]
    • 1924, Edna Ferber, chapter 7, in So Big[9], New York: Grosset and Dunlap, page 114:
      The Pools had given them a “hanging lamp,” coveted by the farmer’s wife; a hideous atrocity in yellow, with pink roses on its shade and prisms dangling and tinkling all around the edge.



See also


Further reading