AskDefine | Define mercy

Dictionary Definition



1 leniency and compassion shown toward offenders by a person or agency charged with administering justice; "he threw himself on the mercy of the court" [syn: clemency, mercifulness]
2 a disposition to be kind and forgiving; "in those days a wife had to depend on the mercifulness of her husband" [syn: mercifulness] [ant: mercilessness]
3 the feeling that motivates compassion [syn: mercifulness]
4 something for which to be thankful; "it was a mercy we got out alive"
5 alleviation of distress; showing great kindness toward the distressed; "distributing food and clothing to the flood victims was an act of mercy"

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl xno merci, from etyl fro merci, from etyl la merces.


  • a UK /ˈmɜːsi/


  1. relenting; forbearance to cause or allow harm to another
    She took mercy on him and quit embarrassing him.
  2. forgiveness or compassion, especially toward those less fortunate
    Have mercy on the poor and assist them if you can.
  3. a tendency toward forgiveness, pity, or compassion
    Mercy is one of his many virtues.
  4. Instances of forebearance or forgiveness.
    Psalms 40:11 Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord


Extensive Definition

Mercy (Middle English, from Anglo-French merci, from Medieval Latin merced-, merces, from Latin, "price paid, wages", from merc-, merx "merchandise") can refer both to compassionate behaviour on the part of those in power (e.g. mercy shown by a judge toward a convict) or on the part of a humanitarian third party (e.g. a mission of mercy aiming to treat war victims). Mercy is a term used to describe the leniency or compassion shown by one person to another, or a request from one person to another to be shown such leniency or unwarranted compassion for a crime or wrongdoing. One of the basic virtues of chivalry, Christian ethics and Islam, it is also related to concepts of justice and morality in behaviour between people. In India, compassion is known as karuna.
In a legal sense, a defendant having been found guilty of a capital crime may ask for clemency from being executed.
To be "mercy", the behavior generally can not be compelled by outside forces. (A famous literary example is from The Merchant of Venice when Portia asks Shylock to show mercy. He asks, On what compulsion, must I? She responds The quality of mercy is not strained.)
A number of organizations (e.g. the Mercy Corps, the Sisters of Mercy, Mercyful Fate and the Temple of Mercy and Charity) use the word "mercy" in their name to describe their work.


  • Ralf van Bühren: Die Werke der Barmherzigkeit in der Kunst des 12.–18. Jahrhunderts. Zum Wandel eines Bildmotivs vor dem Hintergrund neuzeitlicher Rhetorikrezeption (Studien zur Kunstgeschichte, vol. 115), Hildesheim / Zürich / New York: Verlag Georg Olms 1998. ISBN 3-487-10319-2
  • Sterling Harwood, "Is Mercy Inherently Unjust?," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1996), pp. 464-470.
  • Jeffrie G. Murphy, "Mercy and Legal Justice," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1996), pp. 454-463.
  • Lampert, K.(2005); Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism. Palgrave-Macmillan
  • Witt, David (2008); "Mercy"
mercy in Czech: Milosrdenství
mercy in German: Barmherzigkeit
mercy in Spanish: Misericordia
mercy in Esperanto: Mizerikordo
mercy in French: Clémence
mercy in Hebrew: רחמים
mercy in Dutch: Barmhartigheid
mercy in Polish: Miłosierdzie
mercy in Slovak: Milosrdenstvo
mercy in Swedish: Barmhärtighet
mercy in Ukrainian: Милосердя

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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