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TWTS: Normalcy or normality? We'll take either

Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended Michigan's stay-at-home order this past week. That has many of us wondering when we'll return to normalcy. 

However, others might be wondering when we'll return to normality.

The "normality" vs. "normalcy" debate is an old one. Given these strange times though, what's old is new again.

The adjective "normal" actually has three noun forms: normalcy, normality, and normalness. Almost no one uses "normalness," so we're not including it in our discussion.

There isn’t any difference in meaning between "normalcy" and "normality.” Both words go back to the 1800s, so neither is brand new.

There's a story out there that Warren G. Harding created "normalcy." Since "normalcy" wasn't commonly used at the time, Harding was accused of making it up when he used it in a speech in 1920.

Harding didn’t make “normalcy” up. However, the word did become much more common after his critics drew so much attention to it.

Despite criticism, "normalcy" is going strong in American English. "Normality" is more common, but that's because it also gets used in mathematics and statistics. However, when it comes to coverage of COVID-19 in the U.S., "normalcy" has been much more common.

That said, while we'd be glad to return to normalcy, we'd be equally glad to return to normality.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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