• anomie •
æ-nê-mee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Societal instability resulting from the erosion of values, customs and standards. 2. Alienation, hopelessness, loss of purpose in individuals resulting from an absence of values, beliefs, and ideals.
Notes: Here is a word that might have a place in conversations about the US today. It is less often spelled anomy. It is not to be confused with anomia, the variety of Broca's aphasia (memory loss of grammar) characterized by the loss of nouns or names. The adjective is anomic, which may be pronounced [ê-nah-mik] or [ê-no-mik].
In Play: In the first sense of today's word, we might hear things like this: "In a mass society like that of the US, cynicism and egoism put some of us adrift on a foggy sea of anomie." In the second sense, like this: "Manley returned home from serving in Afghanistan in a complete state of anomie."
Word History: Today's Good Word has been around since the 16th century meaning "lawlessness", but Émile Durkheim gave it the current meaning in his 1897 book Suicide. He Gallicized the Greek word anomia "lawlessness", which was composed of a(n) "not, without" + nomia "lawfulness". The prefix a (an before vowels) came from PIE ne- "not". It turned up in English and German as un-, Latin as in-, and Russian as ne-. Nomia goes back to PIE nem-/nom- "to take, allot, assign", found also in Greek nemein "to distribute, count" and nemesis "distribution of what is due", Latin numerus "number", German nehmen "to take", Dutch nemen "to take", and Russian prinimat' "to get, receive" and otnimat' "to take away".
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