SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Normalcy or normality? I’ve made up my mind.


There’s damage out there some place
You got to step aside
Where are you going that decision is made
That’s how it started
Too hot and dirty inside
Contain your feelings when there’s nowhere to go

After years and years of dithering, I’ve chosen normality over normalcy. English speakers have come to use these words interchangeably, and that’s fine, but damn it, each of needs to make a choice NOW.

Normality gets my vote, and I’m sticking with it.

Whether you prefer normality or normalcy, one thing’s for certain: we won’t be having any of it for a very long time to come. Our favorite Doctor Councilman Al Knable explains the social aspect of normalcy/normality in a time of COVID-19 in this excellent op-ed piece contributed to the local chain newspaper.

KNABLE COLUMN: The road back to normalcy

There is an old yarn that tells of a weary traveler who, in the days before GPS and navigation apps, found himself far from home, hopelessly lost in the country. Indeed he was “off the map.”

Minutes passed as hours. Miles rolled beneath him, carrying him no closer to home, the gas gauge approaching “empty.” Desperate for assistance, the lost soul finally came across a seedy gas station, which to him appeared like an oasis in the desert.

Honking his horn with joy, a sleepy gas jockey at length appeared. The driver, overcome with relief exclaimed, “Fill ‘er up! And can you please tell me how to get back to the highway?”

The attendant puzzled a long moment, carefully studied the map and then answered sheepishly, “Mister, I’m afraid you can’t get there from here.”

This is our predicament. We are the traveler, the highway for lack of a better word is “normalcy” and we are off the map with no one who can tell us exactly how to handle this coronavirus outbreak.

People are afraid — more so even than after 9/11. No doubt some of this anxiety comes from facing an enemy even more unseen and insidious than Al-Qaeda. The uncertainty of just how bad things might get, our loss of freedom of movement add fuel to our concerns. There is perhaps so much information emanating from so many sources without rest that no one entity is deemed as the authority. Thus information mingles with misinformation breeding rumor and fear.

So how do we return to normalcy?

As for my personal decision to opt for normality, there’s a good explanation here.

Normality and Normalcy, by Maeve Maddox (Daily Writing Tips)

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.”


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.