con·​tempt | \kən-ˈtem(p)t \

Definition of contempt 

1a : the act of despising : the state of mind of one who despises : disdain glared at him in contempt

b : lack of respect or reverence for something acting with contempt for public safety

2 : the state of being despised

3 : willful disobedience to or open disrespect of a court, judge, or legislative body contempt of court

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Examples of contempt in a Sentence

There, in the tall grass and the jungle, many would fall and the rest would return home to endure the sullen contempt of their fellow citizens, all to no purpose. — A. J. Bacevich, Commonweal, 12 Sept. 1997 I even read a mild contempt into this first-name business, comparable to the old habit of calling men Mac, Ace, Chief, or Buddy, or calling women Honey, Sweetie, or Doll. — Aristides, American Scholar, Summer 1996 The same contempt for the poor that suggests kids are better off in orphanages will mobilize resistance to the orphanages themselves. — Katha Pollitt, Nation, 12 Dec. 1994 … they looked with contempt at the bloodless gray arthritic hands of the old woman … — Alice Walker, In Love & Trouble, 1973 He feels that wealthy people view him with contempt because he is poor. He spoke with contempt in his voice. She has displayed a profound contempt for her opponents. She was arrested for contempt of court.
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Recent Examples on the Web

He was convicted of contempt of court shortly before losing re-election in 2016. Terry Tang, The Seattle Times, "Arizona Senate primary run in Trump’s shadow," 28 Aug. 2018 Feeling enraged and betrayed as well as grief-stricken, Manuel speeds to Galicia and is greeted there with cold contempt by Álvaro’s aristocratic family. Tom Nolan, WSJ, "Mysteries: Peril Comes to Paradise," 18 Oct. 2018 Addicts, if not casual users, are regarded with a pervasive contempt. Josie Duffy Rice, The Atlantic, "The Gospel According to Pusha T," 12 July 2018 This, even as Trump himself treats the group with contempt and refuses on behalf of the United States to participate in it. Jonah Shepp, Daily Intelligencer, "In Trump’s Russia Summit, Putin Holds All the Cards," 29 June 2018 As sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., he was charged with criminal contempt and found guilty of ignoring a judge’s order to stop profiling Latinx people in his signature immigration patrols. Breanna Edwards, The Root, "Corrupt Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio Insists on Dying on Racist Hill, Says He’ll Revive ‘Birther’ Theory if Elected," 28 Mar. 2018 She was initially regarded with contempt by Nassar's institutional supporters, some of whom have stepped down from prominent positions. Vogue, "What the #MeToo Movement Can Learn from the Women Who Put Larry Nassar Away," 26 Jan. 2018 He was held in contempt, and has appealed that ruling. Peter Nicholas, WSJ, "Cohen’s Lawyer Says Client Has Information to Share With Mueller," 22 Aug. 2018 Republicans quickly objected and threatened to hold Strzok in contempt. Aaron Blake,, "6 key moments from Peter Strzok’s wild hearing," 12 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'contempt.' 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 contempt

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

History and Etymology for contempt

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin contemptus, from contemnere — see contemn

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Statistics for contempt

Last Updated

15 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for contempt

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

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More Definitions for contempt



English Language Learners Definition of contempt

: a feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval

: a lack of respect for or fear of something that is usually respected or feared

law : speech or behavior that does not show proper respect to a court or judge


con·​tempt | \kən-ˈtempt \

Kids Definition of contempt

1 : a feeling of disrespect or disapproval of something or someone It amused him that she pretended such contempt for him and yet condescended to show off …— Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain

2 : the state of being despised He holds them in contempt.

3 : lack of proper respect for a judge or court He was fined for contempt of court.


con·​tempt | \kən-ˈtempt \

Legal Definition of contempt 

1 : willful disobedience or open disrespect of the orders, authority, or dignity of a court or judge acting in a judicial capacity by disruptive language or conduct or by failure to obey the court's orders also : the offense of contempt

called also contempt of court

civil contempt

: contempt that consists of disobedience to a court order in favor of the opposing party

Note: The sanctions for civil contempt end upon compliance with the order.

constructive contempt

: indirect contempt in this entry

criminal contempt

: contempt consisting of conduct that disrupts or opposes the proceedings or power of the court

Note: The sanctions for criminal contempt are designed to punish as well as to coerce compliance.

direct contempt

: contempt committed in the presence of the court or in a location close enough to disrupt the court's proceedings

indirect contempt

: contempt (as disobedience of a court order) that occurs outside of the presence of the court

2 : willful disobedience to a lawful order of or willful obstruction of a legislative body in the course of exercising its powers contempt of Congress

in contempt

: in the state of having been found guilty of contempt refused to testify and were held in contempt— A. M. Dershowitz

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Comments on contempt

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