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From Middle English cruelte, from Old French crualté (French cruauté), from Latin crudelitas. By surface analysis, cruel +‎ -ty.


  • IPA(key): /ˈkɹuː(ə)lti/
  • (file)


cruelty (countable and uncountable, plural cruelties)

  1. (uncountable) An indifference to suffering or pleasure in inflicting suffering.
    Synonyms: mercilessness, barbarism, ruthlessness
    Antonyms: mercy, clemency
    • 1963, C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, 2nd Revised edition, page 9:
      Fear of their cargo bred a savage cruelty into the crew. One captain, to strike terror into the rest, killed a slave and dividing heart, liver and entrails into 300 pieces made each of the slaves eat one, threatening those who refused with the same torture. Such incidents were not rare.
  2. (countable) A cruel act.
    • 1788 June, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, “Mr. Sheridan’s Speech, on Summing Up the Evidence on the Second, or Begum Charge against Warren Hastings, Esq., Delivered before the High Court of Parliament, June 1788”, in Select Speeches, Forensick and Parliamentary, with Prefatory Remarks by N[athaniel] Chapman, M.D., volume I, [Philadelphia, Pa.]: Published by Hopkins and Earle, no. 170, Market Street, published 1808, →OCLC, page 474:
      The Begums' ministers, on the contrary, to extort from them the disclosure of the place which concealed the treasures, were, [] after being fettered and imprisoned, led out on to a scaffold, and this array of terrours proving unavailing, the meek tempered Middleton, as a dernier resort, menaced them with a confinement in the fortress of Chunargar. Thus, my lords, was a British garrison made the climax of cruelties!

Derived terms[edit]