n. pl. mer·ciesIdiom:
1. Compassionate treatment, especially of those under one's power; clemency.
2. A disposition to be kind and forgiving: a heart full of mercy.
3. Something for which to be thankful; a blessing: It was a mercy that no one was hurt.
4. Alleviation of distress; relief: Taking in the refugees was an act of mercy.
at the mercy of
Without any protection against; helpless before: drifting in an open boat, at the mercy of the elements.
[Middle English merci, from Old French, from Medieval Latin mercēs, mercēd-, from Latin, reward.]
Synonyms: mercy, leniency, clemency, charity
These nouns mean humane and kind, sympathetic, or forgiving treatment of or disposition toward others. Mercy is compassionate forbearance: "The challenge ... is how to define morally reasonable grounds on which to grant perpetrators mercy and allow them to go free" (Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela).
Leniency implies mildness, gentleness, and often a tendency to reduce punishment: "Even though Grant advocated leniency toward the Confederacy's military leaders, he called for punishment of its political leaders" (Brooks D. Simpson).
Clemency is mercy shown by someone with judicial authority: The judge believed in clemency for youthful offenders. Charity is goodwill and benevolence in judging others: "With malice toward none, with charity for all ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in" (Abraham Lincoln).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.