Offense, sin, vice, crime, scandal are comparable as general terms denoting a more or less serious or conspicuous infraction or transgression of law or custom.
Offense is the term of widest application, being referable to a violation of any law, including the law of the state, the law of the church, natural law, moral law, or standards of propriety and taste set up (as by society or the arts). It is also applicable to any transgression regardless of its triviality or gravity or its voluntary or involuntary character, provided it injures or tends to injure the welfare or well-being or happiness of others.
Sin primarily applies to an offense against the moral law especially as laid down in the Ten Commandments and in laws derived from them. Theologically its essential character is disobedience of the divine will and willful opposition to the law of God; in somewhat wider use it implies a failure to live up to the moral ideals of one’s time or environment or to the moral ideal one has set as the standard of one’s own conduct.
Vice (see also FAULT 2 ), though frequently applied to any of the offenses that from the theological and religious points of view are called sins, often carries little direct suggestion of a violation of divine law; rather, it more uniformly imputes to such offenses a character suggestive of moral depravity, corruption, or degradation; also, the term less often applies to single acts or single transgressions than to habits and practices that debase the character of a person or group of persons.
Crime in its basic sense applies to an infraction of law, especially of common law or statute law, that is punishable by the state or by any power that constitutes itself as the guardian of such law; it is not a technical legal term, but it is often used in the courts and is sometimes defined in penal codes, usually as a general term applicable to any act or omission forbidden by law and punishable upon conviction. In such use the term comprehends many clearly distinguished types of offenses (as a misdemeanor, a felony, or an act of treason).
Crime and, less often, sin may be applied to offenses that are of exceedingly grave nature; in fact, this implication is often found in crime, even in its quasilegal sense.
Scandal (see also DISGRACE ) applies to an offense against a law that is also an offense in another sense of that word—that of an act, a condition, or a practice which offends the public conscience or which puts a stumbling block in the way of those who should obey the law or should be trained to obey it; unlike the words sin, vice, and crime, scandal carries no implication of probable or certain punishment or retribution but emphasizes the distressing effect it has on others or the discredit it attaches to religion, morals, or respectability.