Middle English cruelte, from Anglo-French cruelté, from Latin crudelitat-, crudelitas, from crudelis
- Date: 13th century
- b : inhuman treatment
- 3 : marital conduct held (as in a divorce action) to endanger life or health or to cause mental suffering or fear
Cruelty can be described as indifference to suffering, and even positive pleasure in inflicting it. If this is supported by a legal or social framework, then receives the name of perversion. Sadism can also be related to this form of action or concept.
Cruel ways of inflicting suffering may involve violence, but explicit violence is not necessary for an act to be cruel. For example, if another person is drowning and begging for help, and another person is able to help, but merely watches with disinterest or perhaps mischievous amusement, that person is being cruel — rather than violent.
Cruelty usually carries connotations of supremacy over a submissive or weaker force, insofar as a weaker party or entity can rarely inflict suffering on a party or entity that has greater dominance.