des·​pot | \ ˈde-spət How to pronounce despot (audio) , -ˌspät \

Definition of despot

1a : a ruler with absolute power and authority tyrannical despots
b : one exercising power tyrannically : a person exercising absolute power in a brutal or oppressive way regards the basketball coach as a despot
2a : a Byzantine emperor or prince
b Christianity : a bishop or patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church
c : an Italian hereditary prince or military leader during the Renaissance

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In his 1755 dictionary, Samuel Johnson said of despot, "the word is not in use, except as applied to some Dacian prince; as the despot of Servia." Indeed at that time, the word was mainly used to identify some very specific rulers or religious officials, and the title was an honorable one: it comes from a Greek word meaning "lord" or "master" and was originally applied to deities. That situation changed toward the end of the century, perhaps because French Revolutionists, who were said to have been "very liberal in conferring this title," considered all sovereigns to be tyrannical. When democracy became all the rage, despot came to be used most often for any ruler who wielded absolute and often contemptuous and oppressive power.

Examples of despot in a Sentence

He was a successful basketball coach, but many people regarded him as a petty despot. The company is run by a benevolent despot.
Recent Examples on the Web His old friend comes through with Hanna's address, and the team brings her in after finding the murder weapon in her apartment along with a rare baseball card taken from a safety despot box during a bank robbery. Sara Netzley,, 15 Mar. 2022 Covenant monsters sometimes die with visceral gore and unflinching footage of point-blank gunshot wounds, and a second-episode sequence includes a military execution in which a despot bags prisoners' heads before popping each with a pistol. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, 14 Mar. 2022 Daly is a despot in the game, and the woman who saves the day happens to be played by Milioti herself. Rodney Ho, ajc, 29 Mar. 2021 Speaking at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser shortly before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Donald Trump heaped praise on the despot. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 24 Feb. 2022 As Putin’s army lays siege to Ukraine, leveling towns with the tactics of a medieval despot, the need for emergency food relief grows exponentially. Steven Banks, Fortune, 31 Mar. 2022 Russia may be run by a despot whose needless military adventurism will result in the death of thousands of Ukranians, but Chelsea’s recent run of success is a net positive. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 25 Feb. 2022 The West remains unwilling to commit itself to a direct military confrontation with a despot in possession of an immense nuclear arsenal. David Remnick, The New Yorker, 10 Mar. 2022 Indeed, the world's eyes have been opened to a despot's perverse plot to crush a sovereign nation every step of the muddied way. Carrie Cordero, CNN, 24 Feb. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of despot

1585, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for despot

Middle French despote, from Greek despotēs master, lord, autocrat, from des- (akin to domos house) + -potēs (akin to posis husband); akin to Sanskrit dampati lord of the house — more at dome, potent

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Last Updated

6 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Despot.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for despot


des·​pot | \ ˈde-spət How to pronounce despot (audio) \

Kids Definition of despot

: a ruler having absolute power and authority and especially one who rules cruelly

More from Merriam-Webster on despot

Nglish: Translation of despot for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of despot for Arabic Speakers


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