moratorium

[ mawr-uh-tawr-ee-uhm, -tohr-, mor- ]
/ ˌmɔr əˈtɔr i əm, -ˈtoʊr-, ˌmɒr- /

noun, plural mor·a·to·ri·a [mawr-uh-tawr-ee-uh, -tohr-, mor-], /ˌmɔr əˈtɔr i ə, -ˈtoʊr-, ˌmɒr-/, mor·a·to·ri·ums.

a suspension of activity: a moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons.
a legally authorized period to delay payment of money due or the performance of some other legal obligation, as in an emergency.
an authorized period of delay or waiting.

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Origin of moratorium

1870–75; <New Latin, Late Latin morātōrium, noun use of neuter of morātōriusmoratory
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does moratorium mean?

A moratorium is most commonly an official suspension or delay of some activity. Moratorium often specifically refers to the postponement of the requirement to make some kind of payment, such as rent.

Such moratoriums are often enacted during emergencies or other unusual circumstances in order to provide relief to people who have lost their usual source of income. Another kind of moratorium is imposed by governments or international bodies on particular activities, such as nuclear testing or offshore drilling.

Moratoriums are often temporary. They can be scheduled to end after a specified period of time, or they can be indefinite, meaning the end date will be decided later.

Moratorium is also used casually (often as part of a joke) to mean an informal ban on something that you want to stop, as in I think it’s time to put a moratorium on watching TV for a while, kids. 

The correct plural of moratorium can be either moratoriums or moratoria. Technically speaking, moratoria is the Latin-based plural form of moratorium. (Many other Latin-derived words can be pluralized in the same way, but many are rarely used, such as stadia as the plural for stadium.)

Example: Due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, some local governments have placed a moratorium on utility payments since so many people are out of work and won’t be able to pay their bills.

Where does moratorium come from?

The first records of moratorium come from the 1870s. It comes from the Late Latin morātōrius, meaning “tending to delay” or “authorizing delay of payment,” from the Latin mora, meaning “delay.”

Since its earliest usage, moratorium has referred to the legal postponement of something, especially payment. Moratoriums are usually official in some way, meaning they are backed by the government or some other regulatory institution. Companies can also enact moratoriums.

A moratorium is typically a way of hitting pause—it’s usually a delay or postponement, not a cancellation. Some moratoriums are scheduled for a set period of time, such as 60, 90, or 120 days. However, some moratoriums are indefinite, meaning they have no scheduled end date.

Moratoriums are usually imposed due to emergencies (like natural disasters) that disrupt people’s jobs and sources of income. For example, in response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic causing many people to be out of work, some government bodies issued an eviction moratorium to temporarily prevent landlords from kicking tenants out of apartments for nonpayment of rent (especially since doing so would create a danger to the public by displacing people who might spread the virus). Moratoriums are often placed on payments themselves, such as rent, mortgage, loan, credit card, and utility payments. Somewhat conversely, insurance companies sometimes place moratoriums on purchasing new policies when a hurricane is about to hit an area.

A moratorium is typically different than a grace period, which is usually a period of time after a payment is due, such as on a loan, before late fees are charged or the loan is cancelled altogether. However, the exact definition of the term can differ depending on the situation or contract involved. The formal word forbearance refers to a similar situation, in which a creditor allows a payer some additional time to pay off a debt. On the other hand, the term loan waiver usually refers to the permanent forgiveness of all or part of a loan—not simply the postponement of payments.

The related adjective moratory is used to describe things, such as moratory laws, that authorize a delay in payment.

Outside of its use to refer to postponing payments or delaying other obligations, moratorium is also commonly used to refer to a suspension of a certain activity, especially when officially enacted by a government body or international agreement. Moratoriums on nuclear testing and offshore drilling prohibit those activities during the period of the moratorium, which may be extended after that period ends. In the U.S., some states have imposed an indefinite moratorium on the execution or prisoners who have been sentenced to death. Because there is no specified end date, these moratoriums are typically understood as a step toward banning executions altogether—resuming them would require additional executive or legislative actions.

In 1969, American protesters engaged in massive demonstrations to demand an end to the Vietnam War in what became known as “the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.”

Moratorium isn’t always used in such a serious way, though. It is also often used in a casual way to suggest an informal ban on something, as in Can we put a moratorium on using the word awesomesauce? In this sense, it’s typically intended as a funny way of saying Let’s stop doing that forever.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to moratorium?

  • moratoriums (plural)
  • moratoria (plural)

What are some synonyms for moratorium?

What are some words that share a root or word element with moratorium

What are some words that often get used in discussing moratorium?

How is moratorium used in real life?

Moratorium is commonly used to refer to official, legally authorized suspensions or postponements, especially involving payments on debts. It is also often used in a joking way to suggest a ban on something that one finds annoying.

 

 

Try using moratorium!

Which of the following terms is NOT a synonym of moratorium?

A. suspension
B. pause
C. postponement
D. endorsement

Example sentences from the Web for moratorium

British Dictionary definitions for moratorium

moratorium
/ (ˌmɒrəˈtɔːrɪəm) /

noun plural -ria (-rɪə) or -riums

a legally authorized postponement of the fulfilment of an obligation
an agreed suspension of activity

Derived forms of moratorium

moratory (ˈmɒrətərɪ, -trɪ), adjective

Word Origin for moratorium

C19: New Latin, from Late Latin morātōrius dilatory, from mora delay
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for moratorium

moratorium
[ (mawr-uh-tawr-ee-uhm) ]

A period of delay agreed to by parties to a dispute or parties who are negotiating. A moratorium may also be an authorized delay in the repayment of a loan, especially by a nation (as in a moratorium on war debts).

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.