Normality and Normalcy

By Maeve Maddox

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Audrey Bennett asks:

Can “normalcy” and “normality” be used interchangeably?

Both nouns derive from the adjective normal.

normal: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

The adverb is normally.

According to some speakers, normalcy is an abominable neologism to be avoided at all costs. This attitude is illustrated by this comment praising a writer for preferring normality over normalcy:

A Nobel in Literature to you for writing “return to normality” instead of the ugly neologism “normalcy,” first popularized by Warren G. Harding.

Actually, according to the OED, this particular “neologism” was around as early as 1857, nearly half a century before Harding used it in his campaign in 1920 when he promised “a return to normalcy.”

The following examples are all from U.S. publications:

After Opener, Giants Hoping for Normalcy

For a man doing time on the yard, sports offer a touch of normality and tangible contact with his life outside.

Pasternack hoping to bring normalcy to New Orleans

Seventeen years later, my quest for normality had taken me through a career in journalism…

AFTER THE STORM; South Florida Staggers to Normality

Evacuees Worry and Hope for Return to Normalcy

Normalcy is not interchangeable with normality in some contexts. For example, in comparing an untypical condition to a typical condition, one would want to pair abnormality with normality and not normalcy. Although the form “abnormalcy” is showing up on the web and even in some dictionaries, it’s not in the OED, and it is not standard in American speech.

Bottom line: Normalcy is well established and acceptable in standard American speech, although it is not interchangeable with normality in some contexts. Normality, on the other hand, suits every context in which the sense “the state or condition of being normal” is intended.

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4 Responses to “Normality and Normalcy”

  • cmdweb

    I have to say, the first time I read the word ‘normalcy’ I was sure it was a typo. I’ve since seen it used in quite a few places online but have never seen it used or written here in the UK.

  • Peter

    how ’bout “normalicititousness”? 🙂

  • John M.

    No sir…I don’t like “normalcy”.
    Note: “normalicititousness” may only be employed if one has been BOTH the owner of a Major League baseball team in Texas AND President of the United States… 🙂

  • Shane

    Normalcy is not a word in the English language.
    It might be acceptable in American English but it’s like saying presentate or missunderestimate.

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