de·​bauch·​ery di-ˈbȯ-chə-rē How to pronounce debauchery (audio)
plural debaucheries
: extreme indulgence in bodily pleasures and especially sexual pleasures : behavior involving sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. that is often considered immoral
… he was glad when others joined them, men and women; and they had more drink and spent the night in wild rioting and debauchery. Upton Sinclair
… Matthew had continued his debaucheries, having chartered a private plane for himself and a bunch of fringe celebrities to go to Corfu for a week of hard-core partying. Evgenia Peretz
archaic : seduction from virtue or duty

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History and Use of Debauchery

Some people come to find debauchery through the Bible, in a manner of speaking.

In a number of modern versions the word may be found in Ephesians 5:18, as in The New International Version's translation: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit....” The Greek word that is translated here as debauchery may be interpreted in many different ways: the King James Version uses excess, whereas the American Standard Version uses riot.

Debauchery always involves behavior—especially sexual behavior or behavior involving alcohol or drugs—that some find morally objectionable. In biblical and spiritual contexts, the word debauchery is deadly serious, but in other situations the word often has a playful connotation, as when a group of friends goes out for a "night of debauchery."

Debauchery began to be used in English in the beginning of the 17th century, and is formed from the earlier word debauch. As a verb debauch initially had the meaning of "to lead astray," especially when referring to leading someone away from another person to whom he or she has an allegiance or duty. In its earliest use as a noun debauch was often used to refer to an instance of eating or drinking too much.

Example Sentences

Like St. Augustine carousing his student days away in fourth-century Carthage, [Thomas] Merton had succumbed to such physical and intellectual debaucheries as New York offered a Columbia undergraduate in the 1930's: wine, women and some Communist fellow-traveling. Mark Silk, New York Times Book Review, 30 Mar. 1986 … they regard all music and everything pleasant as forms of debauchery, and will not confess to any knowledge or practice unless you can convince them that you are as abandoned a profligate as themselves. Bernard Shaw, letter, 25 Nov. 1948 I have seen a dozen boys stretched on the grass within a circumference of fifty feet, all of them smoking cigarettes and reading dime novels. It was a scene of inspiring debauchery, even to the most craven spectator. H. L. Mencken, Happy Days, 1940 He later regretted the debauchery of his youth. He recalled the evening's debaucheries with regret.
Recent Examples on the Web Tyler also seemed to have a soft spot for debauchery on Wednesday night, and teased the audience during the Vegas show. Mark Gray, Peoplemag, 15 Sep. 2022 Sebastian Stan knew something of Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee‘s reputation for debauchery. Michael Ordoñastaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 15 June 2022 That day, the American calendar of cultural appropriateness states, is supposed to be reserved for debauchery in the name of sport. Joseph Goodman |, al, 16 Feb. 2022 As the year unfolded, senior officials were purged and their families’ debauchery and corruption exposed. Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books, 5 Oct. 2022 Slumped in our muggy kitchen, listless and drunk after a day of July Fourth debauchery, my girlfriend locked eyes with me as if struck by a brilliant idea. Colin Kirkland, SPIN, 26 Sep. 2022 Burners, as attendees are known, will gather over the next week, creating a temporary society of towering sculptures, pyrotechnics, Mad Max-esque car cruises, artist performances and general debauchery, known as Black Rock City. Gerry Díaz, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Aug. 2022 What begins as an evening of TikTok dances and debauchery turns into a frenzy of finger-pointing and fighting. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, 4 Aug. 2022 One wonders what these small-town teens make of the debauchery that surrounds them. New York Times, 22 July 2022 See More

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

Word History


see debauch entry 1

First Known Use

1642, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of debauchery was in 1642

Dictionary Entries Near debauchery

Cite this Entry

“Debauchery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



de·​bauch·​ery di-ˈbȯch-(ə-)rē How to pronounce debauchery (audio)
plural debaucheries
: extreme and unreasonable involvement in physical pleasures

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