car·​cer·​al | \ ˈkär-sə-rəl How to pronounce carceral (audio) \

Definition of carceral

: of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison

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Describing a painting of John Howard visiting a prison in 1787, Robert Hughes wrote that Howard was "the pioneer of English carceral reform" (Time Magazine, November 11, 1985). Prison reform might be the more common phrase, but the use of carceral was by no means unprecedented. Vladimir Nabokov, in his inimitable prose, described a prison scene in Invitation to a Beheading thusly: "The door opened, whining, rattling and groaning in keeping with all the rules of carceral counterpoint." An adjective borrowed directly from Late Latin, carceral appeared shortly after incarcerate ("to imprison"), which first showed up in English around the mid-1500s; they're both ultimately from carcer, Latin for "prison."

Examples of carceral in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web What does the carceral state mean for our communities and mean for solutions and mean for justice? Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, "The History of Anti-Asian-American Violence," 25 Mar. 2021 Walsh’s public grief — and his rage — was a potent political force, an ideal embodiment of the carceral populism of the times. Rachel Monroe, Vulture, "The Criminal Minds of Jim and Tim," 15 Mar. 2021 Altogether, these developments amount to a vast expansion of carceral capacity, much of it in rural counties and regional cities like Albany. Jack Norton, The New York Review of Books, "America’s Hidden Gulag," 19 Feb. 2021 The ruling is based not on whether the Wikileaks founder violated the Espionage Act, but on the implications of subjecting him to the US carceral state. Andy Greenberg, Wired, "The UK Denies Julian Assange's Extradition, Citing Suicide Risk," 4 Jan. 2021 If xenophobic governments in Europe offer any indication, the lines between carceral and climate policy will only get fuzzier as temperatures rise. Kate Aronoff, The New Republic, "Defunding the Police Is Good Climate Policy," 4 June 2020 Scholars in carceral studies, art history and ethnic studies will appreciate art historian Nicole Fleetwood’s innovative methodology, arguments and interventions, but her ambitious book is also accessible to a popular audience. Beth Py-lieberman, Smithsonian Magazine, "Smithsonian Scholars Pick Their Favorite Books of 2020," 3 Dec. 2020 Following the case against Wizard and Dreamer, Gattis exposes readers to details rarely portrayed in fiction — the unwritten rules of gang culture, the judicial system and the carceral process — that only an insider could weave in so seamlessly. Paula L. Woods, Los Angeles Times, "How an outsider novelist nailed ‘The System’ of crime and punishment in South L.A.," 2 Dec. 2020 At this moment, art history is in the process of being rewritten in universities across America; meanwhile, the names of opioid and carceral system profiteers remain prominent in the galleries of major arts institutions. Megan O’grady, New York Times, "Barbara Kruger," 19 Oct. 2020

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

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First Known Use of carceral

1570, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for carceral

Late Latin, from Latin carcer prison

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The first known use of carceral was in 1570

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Last Updated

3 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Carceral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

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