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adjective wan·ton \ˈwȯn-tən, ˈwän-\

Simple Definition of wanton

  • : showing no thought or care for the rights, feelings, or safety of others

  • : not limited or controlled

  • of a woman : having sex with many men

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of wanton

  1. 1 a archaic :  hard to control :  undisciplined, unruly b :  playfully mean or cruel :  mischievous

  2. 2 a :  lewd, bawdy b :  causing sexual excitement :  lustful, sensual

  3. 3 a :  merciless, inhumane <wanton cruelty> b :  having no just foundation or provocation :  malicious <a wanton attack>

  4. 4 :  being without check or limitation: as a :  luxuriantly rank <wanton vegetation> b :  unduly lavish :  extravagant <wanton imagination>

wantonly adverb
wantonness play \-tən-nəs\ noun

Examples of wanton in a sentence

  1. No artist should be subjected to this much wanton affection: it's unseemly, like being hugged by a stranger who won't let go. —James Wolcott, New Republic, 30 Aug. 2004

  2. I also wrote that innocent people would die as a consequence of the wanton, lawless destruction of medical stocks in a dirt-poor country. —Christopher Hitchens, Nation, 31 May 1999

  3. While I was happy to find Mr. Pollan firmly allied with those of us who oppose the wanton broadcast of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers on lawn and garden, I wish he had lingered a little longer over this vital subject. —Maxine Kumin, New York Times Book Review, 9 June 1991

  4. Vandals were guilty of the wanton destruction of the school property.

  5. They were accused of wanton cruelty toward animals.

  6. He showed a wanton disregard for his friend's feelings.

  7. a life of wanton luxury

Origin of wanton

Middle English, from wan- deficient, wrong, mis- (from Old English, from wan deficient) + towen, past participle of teen to draw, train, discipline, from Old English tēon — more at tow

First Known Use: 14th century



noun wan·ton \ˈwȯn-tən, ˈwän-\

Definition of wanton

  1. 1 a :  one given to self-indulgent flirtation or trifling —used especially in the phrase play the wanton b :  a lewd or lascivious person

  2. 2 :  a pampered person or animal :  pet; especially :  a spoiled child

  3. 3 :  a frolicsome child or animal

Examples of wanton in a sentence

  1. He practiced the anathema he would hurl at her from his pulpit when her shame was known—hussy, slut, harlot and wanton featured heavily … —James A. Michener, Texas, 1985

  2. During the middle years of their marriage … his campaign to free his bride so that she could become a wanton had languished. —Andrew M. Greeley, Ascent into Hell, 1983

  3. My informal education had begun the afternoon in Belleville Park when I discovered that girls were wantons willing to sneak away to shaded glades to be kissed. —Russell Baker, Growing Up, 1982

Origin of wanton

(see 1wanton)

First Known Use: 1509



verb wan·ton \ˈwȯn-tən, ˈwän-\

Definition of wanton

  1. intransitive verb
  2. :  to be wanton or act wantonly (see 1wanton)

  3. transitive verb
  4. :  to pass or waste wantonly or in wantonness

wantoner noun

Examples of wanton in a sentence

  1. It might well be, said Mrs McNab, wantoning on with her memories; they had friends in eastern countries; gentlemen staying there, ladies in evening dress; she had seen them once through the dining-room door all sitting at dinner. —Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 1927

  2. … for Nature here / Wantoned as in her prime and played at will / Her virgin fancies, pouring forth more sweet, Wild above rule or art, enormous bliss. —John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Origin of wanton

(see 1wanton)

First Known Use: 1582

WANTON Defined for Kids


adjective wan·ton \ˈwȯn-tən\

Definition of wanton for Students

  1. 1 :  not modest or proper :  indecent

  2. 2 :  showing no thought or care for the rights, feelings, or safety of others <wanton cruelty>

wantonly adverb
wantonness noun

Law Dictionary


adjective wan·ton \ˈwänt-ən, ˈwȯnt-\

Legal Definition of wanton

  1. :  manifesting extreme indifference to a risk of injury to another that is known or should have been known :  characterized by knowledge of and utter disregard for probability of resulting harm <a wanton act> <by such wanton or willful misconduct> — see also reckless

wantonly adverb
wantonness noun

Additional Notes on wanton

Wanton reckless, and willful are often used to refer to an aggravated level of negligence that borders on intent and that is often ground for an award of punitive damages.

Seen and Heard

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deserving imitation because of excellence

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