- A malicious or harmful nature, action, or thing
- An unjust, deceitful, or improper nature, action, or thing
Though we don't often recognize it, many of us are fortunate to live in an age when people are expected to behave fairly toward one another. Some would argue that this is so much the case that it seems incomprehensible that, even a century or two ago, people did not receive as just and respectful treatment from one another as we do today. However, we can always improve as a society, so those few times when we are the victims of iniquity are a reminder that we can all work harder to eliminate unfairness and ill will toward one another.
Iniquity means a state or quality of grave injustice or even malevolence. While life and its experiences are certainly not distributed perfectly fairly, iniquity is concerned not with small or ordinary sleights, but with serious breaches in equity. In fact, such breaches are so serious that iniquity also extends to acts of human depravity and cruelty, which is fitting as evil is, in a sense, the ultimate injustice.
The word iniquity can also mean an unfair or despicable act itself. For instance, while a politician's closing of homeless shelters to increase their own salary could certainly demonstrate the iniquity of his policies (in the sense of both its inequity and dearth of ethics), that act could itself be called an iniquity. In fact, aside from people, most nouns that can be said to exhibit iniquity can be described as iniquities - e.g. cheating is a practice that is filled with iniquity, as it is inherently neither just nor ethical, and an instance of cheating could be called an iniquity. Thus, iniquity is a quality that an iniquity would have, and an iniquity is defined by the iniquity of the motivation or result.
The phrase den of iniquity takes on additional nuance beyond simply being a place of unethical or unjust behavior, but often implies a place of romantic or sexual deviance. The connotation intrinsic to this idiom is so strong that many times den of iniquity refers explicitly to a brothel, strip club, or other such establishment. Regardless of what embodies the quality, though, wherever iniquity is found, one can be sure of unscrupulous behavior.
Example: All the world's major religions share the condemnation of iniquity, as they each respectively define it.
Example: Many people view policies which deny succor to the needy as an iniquity weighing on the collective conscience.
The word iniquity originally came to English in the early 14th century in the form of the Middle English iniquite, meaning "hostility" or "maliciousness." This derived from the Middle French word iniquité, meaning "wickedness" or "unfavorable circumstances," and, prior to that, from the Latin word iniquitas. This latter form is adapted from the Latin word iniquus, which means "unjust, harmful" and comes from the prefix in-, meaning "not," and aequus, meaning "just" or "equal."
Iniquitous: The adjective form of iniquity is employed when illustrating the immorality or unfairness of a person or thing.
Example: The deliberately misleading terms added to the user agreement made for an iniquitous change in company policy.
Iniquitously: This adverb form illustrates when an action is carried out in a malevolent or unjust fashion.
Example: A truly selfish person is one who does not care how iniquitously their deeds affect others.
Inequity: While iniquity and inequity sound very similar, especially as they both utilize the "in-" prefix, there is a subtle distinction between their meanings. While iniquity means a usually intentional instance or state of wantonness or injustice, inequity means merely unequal. The latter can be employed more figuratively to signify unfairness, but this is not necessarily implicit or inherent, as is more often the case with iniquity.
Example: Numerous studies suggest that the inequity of income between the upper and lower classes in America is the widest it has ever been.
From Neil Gaiman's Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch:
You see, evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction. It is ultimately negative, and therefore encompasses its downfall even at its moments of apparent triumph. No matter how grandiose, how well-planned, how apparently foolproof of an evil plan, the inherent sinfulness will by definition rebound upon its instigators. No matter how apparently successful it may seem upon the way, at the end it will wreck itself. It will founder upon the rocks of iniquity and sink headfirst to vanish without trace into the seas of oblivion.
Gaiman's speaker makes an eloquent soliloquy on the ultimate futility of evil deeds, noting that, like a ship running aground on jagged rocks, fiendish plans are ruined by the malevolence, or iniquity, that lies beneath them.
- An act of iniquity is inequitable.
- An iniquity is a great injustice.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of iniquity. Did you use iniquity in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.