Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Recidivism

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is recidivism. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Recidivism is relapse into criminal behavior, or more broadly, a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior.

// The county’s new program has been very successful in reducing recidivism rates.


“The company’s success rate, measured by residents who move on to self-sufficient housing before relapse or recidivism, turns statistics upside down. Forman says more than 60% of residents are clean, sober and employed after 2 years or more.” — Christian Grace, Cape Gazette (Lewes, Delaware), 31 May 2022

Did You Know?

The re- in recidivism is the same re- in relapse and return, and like those words recidivism is about going back: it’s a tendency to relapse, especially into criminal behavior. Recidivism is a 19th century French borrowing that’s ultimately from a Latin word meaning “to relapse into sin or crime.” In borrowing recidivism, English was itself engaging in a kind of recidivism: the same Latin source of recidivism had been nabbed in the 16th century to form the much less common recidivate, meaning “to fall into or exhibit recidivism.”

Leave a Reply