For anyone who’s heard the term “new normal” one too many times and had their mind wander, this writing tip is for you. For me, it wandered to the difference between “normalcy” vs. “normality” and the question of whether one of these words is the hands-down, correct term we should all be using.
What do you think? Which rolls off your tongue?
Here’s what you need to know:
“Normalcy” isn’t normal. It’s a bit of a renegade, but that’s not to say that it’s wrong. Why am I calling “normalcy” a renegade? Well, it’s not because it’s dancing on TikTok. Adjectives that end in “t” normally become nouns by adding “cy.” Think about it for a moment: “vacant” becomes “vacancy”; “intimate” becomes “intimacy”; “expedient” becomes “expediency”; “stagnant” becomes “stagnancy.” Yet “normal” ends with an “l,” and “l” words typically transform into adjective forms with an “-ity.”
“Normality” is normal in this way. It’s arguably the standard, preferred form and far more common everywhere English is spoken, yet this isn’t the end of the matter.
In scientific and mathematics circles, this “-cy” vs. “-ity” language-logic is cast aside, and “normalcy” is still the favored term for certain situations. Then there’s the choice of “normalcy” that no one can forget, when President Warren Harding used it in 1920 in his campaign slogan, “Return to Normalcy.” The press went wild, as media outlets seem to do, decrying the U.S. president’s incompetence with the English language. “Normalcy” vs. “Normality”—the debate raged again! To be fair, “normalcy” was in common use at the time, especially in American English. One hundred years later, in the COVID era, “normalcy” is heard almost as commonly as “normality” once again.
Unlike other illogical mistakes that find their way into the dictionary (ahem, “irregardless” or “literally” literally defined as “figuratively”), both “normality” and “normalcy” have their legitimate arguments of correct usage. Plus, neither word is dramatically older than the other either.
And really, if you want to talk about how not normal the nouns of “normal” are, you could also bring “normalness” into the conversation, which is another accepted adjective form. You didn’t see that coming, did you? Less common, yes, but it is a noun spelling that’s been around for almost as long as the other two.
So the nouns of “normal” are a bit abnormal in the end. It’s the English language. Are you surprised? To be fair, we could talk “abnormalities” all day long, but we wouldn’t really talk about “abnormalcies.”
But which word do you prefer? And why? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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