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 On April 16 he was found in contempt of the Supreme Court of Ohio and indefinitely suspended from practicing law, an extension of an interim suspension implemented in February. Madeline Mitchell, The Enquirer, "Judge modifies Michael Mearan's house arrest after health 'visibly declined,' attorney says," 6 May 2021 Late last year, Jack found both state agencies in contempt of court for failing to heed 13 of her orders – and threatened fines against the commission. Robert T. Garrett, Dallas News, "Federal judge defends her efforts to clean up Texas’ foster care system amid complaints from providers," 6 May 2021 Two months later, Judge Kaplan ordered a trial to determine whether Mr. Donziger should be held in criminal contempt of court for continuing to ignore the orders. Sara Randazzo, WSJ, "Litigation Without End: Chevron Battles On in 28-year-old Ecuador Lawsuit," 2 May 2021 Freitag's decision not to immediately arrest her led to a legal confrontation with City Attorney Martinez, who filed a motion to have the sheriff held in contempt of court. Randy Furst, Star Tribune, "Albert Lea bar owner who defied COVID restrictions and has been on the lam is arrested in Iowa," 29 Apr. 2021 The judge determined there was not enough evidence to hold Young in contempt of court for destroying the text messages on his phone that were part of the lawsuit. Jennifer Edwards Baker | Fox 19, The Enquirer, "Special prosecutor to seek suspension of Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young after felony indictment," 21 Apr. 2021 That led to a fractious court hearing where Martinez asked Steele County District Judge Joseph Bueltel to hold Freitag in contempt of court. Randy Furst, Star Tribune, "Albert Lea wine bar owner who resisted COVID restrictions goes on the lam," 10 Apr. 2021 Todd did not recuse, and in the same case, found Salvagio in contempt of court for violation of one of her orders. Carol Robinson | Crobinson@al.com, al, "Jefferson County judge suspended after scathing abuse of power allegations," 9 Apr. 2021 Starr was held in contempt of the court’s order dated Sept. 25, 2019, for failing to notify clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of a prior suspension. Rafael Olmeda, sun-sentinel.com, "Supreme Court disciplines seven South Florida attorneys," 31 Mar. 2021

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 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Contempt.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/contempt. Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for contempt

contempt

noun

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

Comments on contempt

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