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early 15c., "confirmation or enactment of a law," from Latin sanctionem (nominative sanctio) "act of decreeing or ordaining," also "decree, ordinance," noun of action from past participle stem of sancire "to decree, confirm, ratify, make sacred" (see saint (n.)). Originally especially of ecclesiastical decrees.
1778, "confirm by sanction, make valid or binding;" 1797 as "to permit authoritatively;" from sanction (n.). Seemingly contradictory meaning "impose a penalty on" is from 1956 but is rooted in an old legalistic sense of the noun. Related: Sanctioned; sanctioning.
in the social sciences, a reaction (or the threat or promise of a reaction) by members of a social group indicating approval or disapproval of a mode of conduct and serving to enforce behavioral standards of the group. Punishment (negative sanction) and reward (positive sanction) regulate conduct in conformity with social norms (see norm). Sanctions may be diffuse-i.e., spontaneous expressions by members of the group acting as individuals-or they may be organized-i.e., actions that follow traditional and recognized procedures. Sanctions therefore include not only the organized punishments of law but also the formal rewards (e.g., honours and titles) and the informal scorn or esteem by members of a community