des·​pot ˈde-spət How to pronounce despot (audio)
: a ruler with absolute power and authority
tyrannical despots
: one exercising power tyrannically : a person exercising absolute power in a brutal or oppressive way
regards the basketball coach as a despot
: a Byzantine emperor or prince
Christianity : a bishop or patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church
: an Italian hereditary prince or military leader during the Renaissance

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In his 1755 dictionary, Samuel Johnson said of despot, "this 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." That situation changed toward the end of the 18th century, perhaps because French Revolutionists, who were said to have been "very liberal in conferring this title," considered all sovereigns to be tyrannical. Eventually, despot came to be used primarily 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 As a starting point for a new Republican internationalism that includes engaging with allies and standing up to despots abroad, Bolton suggested starting with the most basic of Reagan’s tenets. Gerald F. Seib, Foreign Affairs, 9 Jan. 2024 Moscow distanced itself from the Wagner Group’s activities in Africa, where the organization has provided lethal firepower to despots and strongmen. Niha Masih, Washington Post, 29 June 2023 This is from January 2022: Kara-Murza is not one who thinks that Russia is destined to be ruled by despots. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 15 Sep. 2023 Rosas is a special place, ruled by the sorcerer-king Magnifico (Chris Pine), who at first seems to be a benevolent despot. Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post, 17 Nov. 2023 She’s given the task of finding warriors who can fend off an impending invasion by a tyrannical despot. Zack Sharf, Variety, 7 Nov. 2023 Trump’s ultimate goal is the same one shared by all would-be despots: to discredit the existing system and liberate themselves from the normal bounds of democratic politics. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 17 Oct. 2023 But the Western world is now confronted with an undesirable but inescapable choice: allowing a land-hungry despot to upset the European order, with deleterious (and expensive) consequences, or buttressing Kyiv. The Editors, National Review, 20 Sep. 2023 This is a characterization that applies chiefly to despots and authoritarian types; dictators who engineer their systems to stay in power for far longer than democracy typically allows. Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY, 9 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'despot.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1585, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of despot was in 1585


Dictionary Entries Near despot

Cite this Entry

“Despot.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


des·​pot ˈdes-pət How to pronounce despot (audio)
: a ruler with absolute power and authority
: a person who uses power in a cruel, unjust, or harmful way

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