What is ‘anomie’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: anomie…

Steven Heighton is a Canadian novelist, short story writer and poet. I’ve never read any of his books — the most famous of which is Afterlands (2006) currently being turned into a film — but I recently encountered an interview with him in my daily newspaper. And, in these remarks, he gave me my word of the week, anomie.

Here is how he used the term:

When I’m between books I always slump into sadness and creative anomie, and every time it happens I’m convinced that this time my appetite won’t return.

Anomie refers to a condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals. The word is credited to Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist, who is seen as one of the architects of modern social science and the father of sociology. By anomie he meant a state when too rapid population growth reduced the amount of interaction between various groups. This, he argued, would lead to a breakdown of understanding, norms and values.

The etymology of the word is Greek, from anomia meaning “lawlessness.” The English spelling is anomy but because Durkheim was French, the French spelling is preferred for his definition of the word.

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