cal·​lous | \ ˈka-ləs How to pronounce callous (audio) \

Definition of callous

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : being hardened and thickened
b : having calluses callous hands
2a : feeling no emotion
b : feeling or showing no sympathy for others : hard-hearted a callous indifference to suffering


cal·​lous | \ ˈka-ləs How to pronounce callous (audio) \
calloused; callousing; callouses

Definition of callous (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to make callous hands calloused by hard manual labor

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from callous


callously adverb
callousness noun

Did You Know?


A callus is a hard, thickened area of skin that develops usually from friction or irritation over time. Such a hardened area often leaves one less sensitive to the touch, so it's no surprise that the adjective callous, in addition to describing skin that is hard and thick, can also be used as a synonym for "harsh" or "insensitive." Both callus and callous derive via Middle English from Latin. The figurative sense of callous entered English almost 300 years after the literal sense, and Robert Louis Stevenson used it aptly when he wrote, in Treasure Island, "But, indeed, from what I saw, all these buccaneers were as callous as the sea they sailed on."

Examples of callous in a Sentence


… under Orton's own companionable charm there was something hard and callous, the result no doubt of a loveless upbringing … — Benedict Nightingale, New York Times Book Review, 10 May 1987 … the scenes involving the snotty, callous dean ring false right from the start … — Pauline Kael, New Yorker, 8 Apr. 1985 Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. — Dylan Thomas, "A Child's Christmas in Wales," in Quite Early One Morning1954 a selfish and callous young man a callous refusal to help the poor
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Both neural structure and neural connectivity are markedly different in callous Dutch ten-year-olds. Rafil Kroll-zaidi, Harper's magazine, "Findings," 10 Mar. 2019 Doctors also described Smith as callous, uncaring, manipulative and without empathy. Paulina Dedaj, Fox News, "Man who raped and killed Florida girl, 8, draws death sentence," 2 Oct. 2018 The use of Mollie Tibbetts as another excuse to hammer on this theme, despite the wishes of some family members, may seem callous. Dara Lind, Vox, "Mollie Tibbetts’s family doesn’t want her death politicized. Trump is doing it anyway.," 22 Aug. 2018 New York will act and file suit to end this callous and deliberate attack on immigrant communities, and end this heartless policy once and for all. Amanda Arnold, The Cut, "New York Is Suing Trump Over ‘Heartless’ Family-Separation Policy," 19 June 2018 The piece was callous at best, and downright cruel at worst. Matt Calkins, The Seattle Times, "Media too quick to label U.S. Open umpire’s calls against Serena Williams as sexist," 11 Sep. 2018 In the moral universe of Sixteen Candles, Jake is allowed to be callous to Caroline without losing his dream boy status because, Sixteen Candles briskly assures us, Caroline is not the right kind of girl. Constance Grady, Vox, "The rape culture of the 1980s, explained by Sixteen Candles," 27 Sep. 2018 Eran Lerman, a former deputy national security adviser who now helps run a conservative think tank in Jerusalem, said no Israelis believed that their army was callous about the loss of life. New York Times, "Israelis Reflect on Gaza: ‘I Hope at Least That Each Bullet Was Justified’," 15 May 2018 Baker, 36, agrees to this probationary guardianship as penance for a recent on-the-job transgression: assaulting a callous teenage murderer. Tom Nolan, WSJ, "Mysteries: The Thriller as Quest for Solace," 8 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Years as a welder have left his hands calloused, nearly immune to burns. Hilary Cadigan, Bon Appetit, "The Unmistakable Bryan Furman, Georgia’s New King of Barbecue," 25 June 2018 Hard, calloused fingers move up and down the neck, connecting chords and filling the park with music. David Montero,, "In a small park named for the national anthem's author, a homeless musician provides the soundtrack," 14 June 2018 The significance wasn't just that Devers wowed even calloused baseball observers by solving Chapman in such short order, or that a Large Child shall lead them. Tom Verducci,, "Why Star Red Sox Rookies Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi Value Contact Over Power," 14 Sep. 2017 Price's emotional hide is not calloused as, oh, Curt Schilling. Jeff Jacobs,, "Jeff Jacobs: David Price Must Find Peace In Boston," 9 June 2017 Meanwhile, the Bruins (16-8, 7-7) are coming off an 80-71 victory over Denver South in the second round and have been calloused by a difficult Centennial League schedule. Kyle Newman, The Denver Post, "Post Preps Radio: Chatfield hosts Cherry Creek in Class 5A Sweet 16 boys hoops battle," 27 Feb. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'callous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of callous


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1769, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for callous

Adjective and Verb

Middle English, from Latin callosus, from callum, callus callous skin

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about callous

Listen to Our Podcast about callous

Statistics for callous

Last Updated

15 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for callous

The first known use of callous was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for callous



English Language Learners Definition of callous

disapproving : not feeling or showing any concern about the problems or suffering of other people


cal·​lous | \ ˈka-ləs How to pronounce callous (audio) \

Kids Definition of callous

: feeling or showing no sympathy for others a callous refusal to help


cal·​lous | \ ˈkal-əs How to pronounce callous (audio) \

Medical Definition of callous

1 : being hardened and thickened
2 : having calluses

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on callous

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with callous

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for callous

Spanish Central: Translation of callous

Nglish: Translation of callous for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about callous

Comments on callous

What made you want to look up callous? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


incapable of being surmounted or overcome

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Finance Words Quiz

  • a-piggy-bank
  • The etymology of mortgage is related most closely to which two words?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!