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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 837368615:
      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 724111485, [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 964384981, 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 15506116, 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 901376714, 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 318565108, 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 231922665, 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 0307-1235, OCLC 635239717, 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.

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]