The word crime is derived from the Latin root cernō, meaning “I decide, I give judgment”. Originally the Latin word crīmen meant “charge” or “cry of distress.” The Ancient Greek word krima , from which the Latin cognate derives, typically referred to an intellectual mistake or an offense against the community, rather than a private or moral wrong.
In 13th century English crime meant “sinfulness”, according to etymonline.com. It was probably brought to England as Old French crimne (12th century form of Modern French crime), from Latin crimen (in the genitive case: criminis). In Latin, crimen could have signified any one of the following: “charge, indictment, accusation; crime, fault, offense”.
The word may derive from the Latin cernere – “to decide, to sift” (see crisis, mapped on Kairos and Chronos). But Ernest Klein (citing Karl Brugmann) rejects this and suggests *cri-men, which originally would have meant “cry of distress”. Thomas G. Tucker suggests a root in “cry” words and refers to English plaint, plaintiff, and so on. The meaning “offense punishable by law” dates from the late 14th century. The Latin word is glossed in Old English by facen, also “deceit, fraud, treachery”, Crime wave is first attested in 1893 in American English.
A normative definition views crime as deviant behavior that violates prevailing norms – cultural standards prescribing how humans ought to behave normally. This approach considers the complex realities surrounding the concept of crime and seeks to understand how changing social, political, psychological, and economic conditions may affect changing definitions of crime and the form of the legal, law-enforcement, and penal responses made by society.
These structural realities remain fluid and often contentious. For example: as cultures change and the political environment shifts, societies may criminalise or decriminalise certain behaviours, which directly affects the statistical crime rates, influence the allocation of resources for the enforcement of laws, and (re-)influence the general public opinion.
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