Both normalcy and normality have the definition of "the state of being normal."

From Wiktionary:
Normalcy - "The state of being normal; the fact of being normal; normality."
Normality - "The state of being normal or usual; normalcy."

Is there any functional difference between them?

For example in the sentence:
After a month of extravagant spending, Sam's life returned to ____ .
which is preferable?

  • 3
    I'm a US speaker and tend to prefer normalcy. Yet, I would always use abnormality over abnormalcy.
    – Kys
    Jun 6, 2016 at 20:15
  • 7
    @WS2 'Normalcy' was never a word until Harding used it as a malapropism in a speech in the 20's 'Return to Normalcy'. Because of that one usage, it has become an accepted ter, in the US, even though 'normality' is preferred.
    – Mitch
    Jun 6, 2016 at 20:15
  • 7
    I would just say "Sam's life returned to normal." Jun 6, 2016 at 20:36
  • 2
    @WS2 Exactly, and I doubt Harding wanted America to return to a state of right angles... Jun 6, 2016 at 21:39
  • 2
    Related: In Britain the word normalcy is ridiculed
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 7, 2016 at 14:27

3 Answers 3


An interesting comment from 1929 is given in the Oxford English Dictionary:

If..‘normalcy’ is ever to become an accepted word it will presumably be because the late President Harding did not know any better.

OED gives the author as G. N. Clark, writing for the Society for Pure English.

"Normality" means the state of being normal.

"Normalcy" was used by Warren G. Harding in his 1920 election campaign called "Return to Normalcy." When pointed out that the word was a mistake, Harding said he couldn't find the word "normality" in his dictionary. Before his gaff, "normalcy" was used as a mathematics term. In the 90 years since Harding misspoke, the term "normalcy" has become widespread (in the USA, at least) either as an example of a mistake or as a valid synonym for "normality."

I suggest not using "normalcy" unless you know what you are doing, because it is still seen by many as a sign of ill-education.

1857, "mathematical condition of being at right angles," from normal + -cy. Associated since c. 1920 with U.S. president Warren G. Harding and derided as an example of his incompetent speaking style. Previously used mostly in the mathematical sense. The word preferred by purists for "a normal situation" is normality (1849).

(Source: Etymology Online)

Harding's usage:

America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

  • 4
    Bang-up answer!!!! :) Jun 7, 2016 at 0:57
  • +1 for the answer. But I have been unable to find the comment you quote in the current on-line Oxford English Dictionary . Were you actually quoting from the 1929 edition?
    – WS2
    Jun 7, 2016 at 6:48
  • 2
    @WS2 The first comment? Yes, it's in the online OED that I access through the public library. It's just below the usage of Mr Harding. Jun 7, 2016 at 14:22
  • @AlanCarmack Apologies
    – WS2
    Jun 7, 2016 at 19:45

Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd edition:

It may come as a surprise to many people that the competing abstract nouns normalcy, normality, and normalness all entered the language at approximately the same time, in the middle of the 19C. The surprise is perhaps reduced when it is noticed that the adj. normal itself, though recorded in the 17C. in the sense of 'rectangular', did not acquire its modern everyday meaning until about 1840. So what we are dealing with here is a group of modern words that has hardly had time for the customary processes of assimilation or rejection to have taken their course.

What is interesting is to look at two different dictionaries from 1828: 1) Johnson and Walker's Dictionary of the English Language, and 2) Webster's.

  • 2
    I wonder what those dictionaries from 1828 say? When I find out, I will suggest an edit.
    – Conrado
    Aug 17, 2020 at 2:36

The obvious answer should be use of the noun "normal." There is no need for either "normalcy" (which is not a word) or "normality."

  • 1
    Well, if word brevity is to be the criterion, why not dump the noun 'normal' in favour of 'norm'? Mar 1, 2021 at 1:27
  • 1
    @HarryAudus I like your suggestion (+1), but unfortunately it would need the definite article to fit in the blank in OP's sentence: "return to the norm." This would add 3 extra letters and bring the count up to one more letter than if you'd used the word 'normal' :D Jul 7 at 4:45
  • 1
    @Quack: I was responding to answer #2, 'The obvious answer should be use of the noun "normal."', not suggesting that "norm" replace "normalcy" or "normality" but "normal". Jul 8 at 6:03

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.