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From Old French mortalite, from Latin mortālitās, from mortālis (relating to death), from mors (death); equivalent to mortal +‎ -ity.



mortality (countable and uncountable, plural mortalities)

  1. The state or quality of being mortal.
    1. The state of being susceptible to death.
      Antonym: immortality
      • 1595, Edmund Spenser, Sonnet 13 in Amoretti and Epithalamion, London: William Ponsonby,[1]
        [] her minde remembreth her mortalitie,
        what so is fayrest shall to earth returne.
      • 1609, William Shakespeare, Sonnet 65,[2]
        Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
        But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
        How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
        Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
      • 1714, Alexander Pope, letter to John Gay in Letters of Mr. Pope, and Several Eminent Persons, London, 1735, Volume 2, p. 208,[3]
        I have been perpetually troubled with sickness of late, which has made me so melancholy that the Immortality of the Soul has been my constant Speculation, as the Mortality of my Body my constant Plague.
      • 1829, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Timbuctoo” in A Complete Collection of the English Poems Which Have Obtained the Chancellor’s Gold Medal in the University of Cambridge, Cambridge: Macmillan, 1859, p. 156,[4]
        [] Thy sense is clogg’d with dull mortality;
        They spirit fetter’d with the bond of clay:
        Open thine eyes and see.”
      • 1969, Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, New York: Random House, Chapter 2, p. 157,[5]
        But on that onerous day [of the funeral], oppressed beyond relief, my own mortality was borne in upon me on sluggish tides of doom.
    2. (archaic) The quality of being punishable by death.
      • 1681, John Dryden, The Spanish Fryar, London: Richard Tonson and Jacob Tonson, Act II, p. 28,[6]
        [] actions of Charity do alleviate, as I may say, and take off from the Mortality of the Sin.
    3. (archaic) The quality of causing death.
      Synonyms: deadliness, lethality
      • 1685, Thomas Willis, Tract of Fevers, Chapter 15, in The London Practice of Physick, London: Thomas Basset and William Crooke, p. 626,[7]
        [] the Fevers of Women in Child-bed; to wit, both the Lacteal, and that called Putrid, which, by reason of its Mortality, deserves to be call’d Malignant.
  2. The number of deaths.
    1. Deaths resulting from an event (such as a war, epidemic or disaster).
      Synonym: casualty rate
      • 1722, Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, London: E. Nutt et al., p. 200,[8]
        [] the Mortality was so great in the Yard or Alley, that there was no Body left to give Notice to the Buriers or Sextons, that there were any dead Bodies there to be bury’d.
      • 1853, Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth, London: Chapman and Hall, Volume 3, Chapter 9, p. 242,[9]
        [] the doctors stood aghast at the swift mortality among the untended sufferers []
      • 1928, Virginia Woolf, chapter 1, in Orlando[10], London: The Hogarth Press, OCLC 297407:
        The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid air and fell like stones to the ground. [] The mortality among sheep and cattle was enormous.
    2. (biology, ecology, demography, insurance) The number of deaths per given unit of population over a given period of time.
      Synonyms: death rate, mortality rate
      • 1776, Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, Volume 1, Book 1, Chapter 8, p. 97,[11]
        In foundling hospitals, and among the children brought up by parish charities the mortality is still greater than among those of the common people.
      • 1798, Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, London: J. Johnson, Chapter 2, pp. 32-33,[12]
        Some of the objects of enquiry would be [] what was the comparative mortality among the children of the most distressed part of the community, and those who lived rather more at their ease []
      • 1918, Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians, London: Chatto and Windus, “Florence Nightingale,” Chapter 3, p. 146,[13]
        And, even in peace and at home, what was the sanitary condition of the Army? The mortality in the barracks was, she found, nearly double the mortality in civil life.
      • 1962, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Chapter 8, p. 114,[14]
        [] a drought year brought conditions especially favorable to the beetle and the mortality of elms went up 1000 per cent.
  3. (figuratively) Death.
    • 1667, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 9, lines 774-777,[15]
      Why am I mockt with death, and length’nd out
      To deathless pain? how gladly would I meet
      Mortalitie my sentence, and be Earth
    • 1728, John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, Dublin: George Risk et al., Act II, Scene 11, p. 37,[16]
      Learn to bear your Husband’s Death like a reasonable Woman. ’Tis not the fashion, now-a-days so much as to affect Sorrow upon these Occasions. No Woman would ever marry, if she had not the Chance of Mortality for a Release.
    • 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Boston: Ticknor, Reed and Fields, Chapter 10, p. 154,[17]
      [] like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man’s bosom, but likely to find nothing save mortality and corruption.
    • 1961, Joseph Heller, Catch-22, New York: Dell, 1962, Chapter 10, p. 112,[18]
      [] the moldy odor of mortality hung wet in the air with the sulphurous fog []
  4. (figuratively, archaic) Mortals collectively.
    Synonyms: humankind, humanity, mankind
    • 1604, Michael Drayton, Moyses in a Map of His Miracles, London, Book 1, pp. 8-9,[19]
      It is not fit Mortalitie should knowe
      What his eternall prouidence decreed,
    • c. 1615, George Chapman (translator), Homer’s Odysses, London: Nathaniel Butter, Book 23, p. 359,[20]
      [] sleepe seiz’d his weary eye,
      That salues all care, to all mortality.

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