From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



From Middle English iniquite, jniquite (evil, wickedness, iniquity; evil act; hostility, malevolence; hostile act; a calamity, misfortune),[1] from Old French iniquité (modern French iniquité (iniquity)), from Latin inīquitās (iniquity; inequality, unfairness; inequity, injustice), from inīquus (unequal, uneven, unfair; disadvantageous, unfavourable; hostile, unkind; unsuitable; wicked, wrong) + -itās (variant of -tās (suffix forming a noun indicating a state of being)). Inīquus is derived from in- (prefix meaning ‘not’) + aequus (equal; fair, impartial, just).[2] Compare inequity.



iniquity (countable and uncountable, plural iniquities)

  1. (uncountable) Deviation from what is right; gross injustice, sin, wickedness.
    • 1555 September 25, Edmonde Byshop of London [i.e., Edmund Bonner], “Thexposition or Declaration of the vii. and Last Peticion of the Pater Noster, which is: But Delyuer Vs from Euill. Amen.”, in A Profitable and Necessarye Doctryne, with Certayne Homelies Adioyned thervnto [], London: In ædibvs Iohannis Cawodi, [], →OCLC:
      And bycauſe our auncient enemye the Deuyl, who is the well and, ſpryng of iniquitie, and is not onely hymſelfe an homycide, a lyer, and and[sic] hater of the truth frõ the beginnyng: [...] Therefore like as we deſyre here to be delyuered from ſynne, ſo also we deſyre, that our heauenly father will ſaue vs, and defende vs from this euil the cauſer of ſynne, that is to ſaye, the Deuyll: [...]
    • c. 1603–1604 (date written), William Shakespeare, The Tragœdy of Othello, the Moore of Venice. [] (First Quarto), London: [] N[icholas] O[kes] for Thomas Walkley, [], published 1622, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene i], page 66:
      If you be ſo fond ouer her iniquity, giue her patent to offend, for if it touches not you, it comes neere no body.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Job 15:15–16:
      Beholde, he putteth no truſt in his Saints, yea, the heauens are not cleane in his ſight. How much more abominable and filthie is man, which drinketh iniquitie like water?
    • 1702, [John Wilson], An Essay wherein National Love and Unity is Recommended, Its Opposits Exposed, Arguments for It Propounded, and Its Standard Expounded, and All Contenders Blamed. [], Edinburgh: Printed by the heirs and successors of Andrew Anderson, [], →OCLC, page 22:
      It will be found, when the Myſterie of iniquitie ſhall be unriddled, that, as they were their ſpawn the Anabaptiſts, the obſtructers of our Doctrinal Reformation, ſo, they are by their Miſſionaries ſent unto Corners and Hillie Countreys the obſtructers of our practical.
    • 1812 May, “Art. I. The Present Picture of New South Wales; [] By D. D. Mann, [] Booth. 1811. [book review]”, in The Monthly Review; or, Literary Journal, Enlarged, volume LXVIII, London: Sold by Becket and Porter, [], →OCLC, pages 3–4:
      In the scanty number of reclaimed convicts, the noted George Barrington holds a conspicuous place. [...] His death took place nearly seven years ago: but for a considerable time previously he was in a state of insanity, produced, it is believed, by serious and sorrowful reflections on his early career of iniquity. [...] [H]is death was that of a sincere Christian.
    • 1811, James Meikle, “Meditation XXXII. Grace in the Blush, Sin not Ashamed.”, in Solitude Sweetened; or, Miscellaneous Meditations, on Various Religious Subjects, Written in Distant Parts of the World, 3rd American edition, New York, N.Y.: Printed for S[tephen] Dodge, by Geo[rge] Forman, →OCLC, page 90:
      It is one of the most surprising things that I have ever observed, That sanctity should be ashamed to look out, but iniquity show itself at noon. [...] Hence the company of rakes over their bottle, are not shy to open to another the mystery of iniquity in their most abandoned actions, and to glory in their shame.
    • 1900, Leo Tolstoy, “Lydia Shoústova’s Home”, in Louise Maude, transl., Resurrection: A Novel, New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead & Company, →OCLC, book II, page 336:
      Nekhlúdoff awoke next morning feeling as if he had been guilty of some iniquity the day before. He began considering. He could not remember having done anything wrong; he had committed no evil act, but he had had evil thoughts.
    • 2014 October 21, Oliver Brown, “Oscar Pistorius jailed for five years – sport afforded no protection against his tragic fallibilities: Bladerunner’s punishment for killing Reeva Steenkamp is but a frippery when set against the burden that her bereft parents, June and Barry, must carry [print version: No room for sentimentality in this tragedy, 13 September 2014, page S22]”, in Jason Seiken, editor, The Daily Telegraph (Sport)[1], London: Telegraph Media Group, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 9 October 2019:
      But ever since the concept of "hamartia" recurred through Aristotle's Poetics, in an attempt to describe man's ingrained iniquity, our impulse has been to identify a telling defect in those brought suddenly and dramatically low.
  2. (countable) An act of great injustice or unfairness; a sinful or wicked act; an unconscionable deed.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Job 31:11, column 2:
      For this is an heinous crime, yea, it is an iniquitie to bee puniſhed by the Judges.
    • 1651, Thomas Hobbes, “Of the Office of Our Blessed Saviour”, in Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, London: [] [William Wilson] for Andrew Crooke, [], →OCLC, 3rd part (Of a Christian Common-wealth), page 261:
      [A]s for the other [goat], which was the Scape Goat, he [Aaron] was to lay his hands on the head thereof, and by a confeſſion of the iniquities of the people, to lay them all on that head, and then by ſome opportune man, to cauſe the Goat to be led into the wilderneſſe, and there to eſcape, and carry away with him the iniquities of the people.
    • 1664, Joseph Caryl, “Job, Chap. 36, Vers. 21”, in An Exposition with Practical Observations Continued upon the Thirty-fifth, Thirty-sixth, and Thirty-seventh Chapters of the Book of Job: Being the Substance of Thirty-five Lectures, London: Printed by M[ary] Simmons, [], →OCLC, page 320:
      O regard not this, 'tis an iniquity to be taken heed of, in a dark day, in a day of trouble, ſuch as was upon Job; as black a day was upon him, as ever upon any in the world, as to his perſonal condition.
    • 1713, Oswald Dykes, “Prov[erb] I. Well Begun, is Half Done.”, in English Proverbs, with Moral Reflexions; [in Imitation of Sir Roger L’Estrange’s Æsop.]: Familiarly Accommodated to the Humour and Manners of the Present Age. [], 3rd edition, London: Printed for G[eorge] Sawbridge, and sold by Jonas Browne [], →OCLC, page 2:
      As for moral Actions, a good Beginning is a great Sign of a good End; but it cannot juſtify a bad one, upon any Attempt: For there's many a holy Cheat in the World; and many an Iniquity, countenanc'd with Religion and Self-Preſervation, which is carry'd on under that Mask, to Rebellion and Murder.
    • 1853, Solomon Northup, chapter XIX, in [David Wilson], editor, Twelve Years a Slave. [], London: Sampson Low, Son & Co.; Auburn, N.Y.: Derby and Miller, →OCLC, page 268:
      I would say that Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished. I would say there was no reason nor justice in the law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold another man in bondage.
    • 1994 May 21, Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, spoken by Jules Winnfield (Samuel L[eroy] Jackson):
      The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

Usage notes[edit]

The words iniquity and inequity overlap in meaning and have cognate roots, but their usage is differentiated by degree of evil (degree of harm that is large, intentional, or both), as follows: iniquity emphasizes evil, whereas inequity can neutrally describe injustice or unfairness even if it is not extreme or does not stem from conscious intent.

Alternative forms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ iniquitẹ̄, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ iniquity, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1900; “iniquity, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]