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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, Edmunde Spenser [i.e., Edmund Spenser], “(please specify the sonnet number or title)”, in Amoretti and Epithalamion. [], London: [] [Peter Short] for William Ponsonby, →OCLC; reprinted in Amoretti and Epithalamion (The Noel Douglas Replicas), London: Noel Douglas [], 1927, →OCLC:
        [] her minde remembreth her mortalitie,
        what so is fayrest shall to earth returne.
      • 1609, William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 65”, in Shake-speares Sonnets. [], London: By G[eorge] Eld for T[homas] T[horpe] and are to be sold by William Aspley, →OCLC:
        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,[1]
        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[2], Cambridge: Macmillan, published 1859, page 156:
        [] 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, chapter 2, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings[3], New York: Random House, page 157:
        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: Or, the Double Discovery. [], London: [] Richard Tonson and Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC, Act II, page 28:
        [] 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
      • c. 1603–1604 (date written), William Shakespeare, “Measure for Measure”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene i]:
        [...] Hold therefore Angelo:
        In our remoue, be thou at full, our selfe:
        Mortallitie and Mercie in Vienna
        Liue in thy tongue, and heart: Old Escalus
        Though first in question, is thy secondary.
        Take thy Commission.
      • 1685, Thomas Willis, Tract of Fevers, Chapter 15, in The London Practice of Physick, London: Thomas Basset and William Crooke, p. 626,[4]
        [] 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; and, usually and especially, the number of deaths per time unit (usually per year), expressed as a rate.
    1. Deaths resulting from an event (such as a war, epidemic or disaster).
      • 1722, Daniel Defoe, “A Journal of the Plague Year”, in et al.[5], London: E. Nutt, page 200:
        [] 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, chapter 9, in Ruth[6], volume 3, London: Chapman and Hall, page 242:
        [] the doctors stood aghast at the swift mortality among the untended sufferers []
      • 1928, Virginia Woolf, chapter 1, in Orlando: A Biography, London: The Hogarth Press, →OCLC; republished as Orlando: A Biography (eBook no. 0200331h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg Australia, July 2015:
        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, casualty rate
      Coordinate terms: case fatality rate, infection fatality rate, lethality
      • 1776, Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations[7], London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, Volume 1, Book 1, Chapter 8, p. 97:
        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, chapter 2, in An Essay on the Principle of Population[8], London: J. Johnson, pages 32–33:
        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,[9]
        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, chapter 8, in Silent Spring[10], Boston: Houghton Mifflin, page 114:
        [] a drought year brought conditions especially favorable to the beetle and the mortality of elms went up 1000 per cent.
      • 2013 July 9, Calum MacLeod, “In China, air pollution report brings despair, humor”, in USA Today[11], →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 10 July 2013[12]:
        By studying mortality rates and pollution statistics in 90 Chinese cities, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Israel and China discovered that air pollution from burning coal in north China, defined as above the Huai River, with a population of around 500 million people, was 55% higher than in the south.
  3. (figuratively) Death.
  4. (figuratively, archaic) Mortals collectively.
    Synonyms: humankind, humanity, mankind
    • 1604, Michael Drayton, Moyses in a Map of His Miracles[15], London, Book 1, pp. 8-9:
      It is not fit Mortalitie should knowe
      What his eternall prouidence decreed,
    • c. 1615, George Chapman, transl., Homer’s Odysses[16], London: Nathaniel Butter, Book 23, p. 359:
      [] sleepe seiz’d his weary eye,
      That salues all care, to all mortality.

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