contempt

noun
con·​tempt | \ kən-ˈtem(p)t How to pronounce contempt (audio) \

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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Frequently Asked Questions About contempt

What does 'in contempt' mean?

A person may be held in contempt in a number of ways. The legal sense may be defined as "willful disobedience to or open disrespect of a court, judge, or legislative body." In a general sense if you hold someone in contempt it simply means that you despise or strongly disapprove of them.

Is the word contempt a verb?

Contempt is typically a noun: people feel contempt, for example, or they act with contempt. The word is, however, also a verb, but as a verb it is archaic, and may be viewed as a mistake. It is synonymous with the verb contemn, which, although somewhat obscure, is not archaic.

Does contempt mean "disdain"?

In many ways the words are synonymous; one may be said to have either disdain or contempt for a thing one scorns, without a significant change in meaning. Disdain more commonly functions as a verb (the verb sense of contempt is no longer in common use), so one would write "I disdained the offer" rather than "I contempted the offer." And contempt is found used in legal settings (in the phrase contempt of court, for instance), while disdain is not.

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 Former President Richard Nixon, who had resigned in disgrace, had repeatedly shown contempt for the law. Robert Moilanen, Star Tribune, "A mission for a new administration: Tell the truth, obey the law," 27 Dec. 2020 Luther became a conservative darling this spring for her provocation, spending two days in custody on contempt of court charges. Vianna Davila, ProPublica, "Restrictions on the South Texas Border Were Meant to Protect People From COVID-19. Then the Handcuffs Came Out.," 19 Dec. 2020 This was another way of campaigning on contempt for the city, long a winning tactic in the state, most of whose counties are Republican-leaning, and a tactic that proved consequential in 2016, when Trump won in part by flipping Pennsylvania. New York Times, "He Wanted to Count Every Vote in Philadelphia. His Party Had Other Ideas.," 16 Dec. 2020 Trump's contempt for criticism and his normalization of character assassinations for anyone who dares speak against him has made it near impossible for some Republicans to strike out on their own. Barnini Chakraborty, Washington Examiner, "Republican 2024 hopefuls weigh backing Trump against their own political futures," 3 Dec. 2020 Throughout it all, U.S. children most likely have witnessed people—from the nation’s leaders to their own family members—dish out harsh judgments, resort to name calling, and harbor contempt for people who look or think differently. Rachel Ng, Family, "How do we build tolerance after the election’s discord? Start with kids.," 16 Nov. 2020 The Left’s instinctive contempt for figures such as Netanyahu of course results in biased writing. Isaac Schorr, National Review, "The New York Times’ Misleading ‘Analysis’ of Benjamin Netanyahu," 11 Nov. 2020 Piazza let Burks withdraw from one lawsuit against Humphrey on Wednesday rather than have the judge remove Burks for contempt of court. John Lynch, Arkansas Online, "Attorney exits Little Rock police-chief lawsuits," 19 Dec. 2020 He was found in civil contempt of a federal court, paid a $90,000 fine, and had to surrender his law license as part of a deal with the independent counsel’s office for his conduct in covering up the affair. Fred Lucas, National Review, "History’s Weakest Impeachment: The Trump Case, One Year Later," 18 Dec. 2020

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, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin contemptus, from contemnere "to look down on, show no respect for, despise" + -tus, suffix of action nouns (with loss of n and intrusive p) — more at contemn

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Time Traveler for contempt

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for contempt

Last Updated

15 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Contempt.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/contempt. Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for contempt

contempt

noun
How to pronounce contempt (audio)

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

contempt

noun
con·​tempt | \ kən-ˈtempt How to pronounce contempt (audio) \

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.

contempt

noun
con·​tempt | \ kən-ˈtempt How to pronounce contempt (audio) \

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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