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 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 Republicans quickly objected and threatened to hold Strzok in contempt. Aaron Blake, Washington Post, "3 key moments from Peter Strzok’s wild hearing," 12 July 2018 Lawmakers have threatened to hold top Justice officials in contempt or impeach them if the documents aren't turned over. NBC News, "House Republicans grill FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts," 27 June 2018 The Justice Department says sharing info on the source threatens national security, but committee Chairman Devin Nunes has threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt if his panel doesn't get them. Doug Criss, CNN, "5 things for May 22: Trump & Justice Dept., North Korea, Sweden, Texas shooting," 22 May 2018 The penalties for holding Parliament in contempt vary. Giles Turner,, "Zuckerberg Risks a Night in U.K. Parliament’s Clock Tower," 1 May 2018 The order and hearing come after Bradley's attorneys, Robert Tuten and Nick Heatherly, asked the judge to dismiss the charges, suppress the evidence and hold the sheriff in contempt. Ashley Remkus,, "Morgan sheriff and deputies acted criminally in probe of blogger and warden, judge says," 27 Apr. 2018 That's why a more symbolic finding of contempt of court, without much punishment attached, may be the limit of Sabraw's ruling. Alan Gomez, USA TODAY, "How a judge can punish Trump administration over separated families," 11 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

17 Nov 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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by force of circumstances

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