adjective, often capitalized
dra·​co·​ni·​an | \ drā-ˈkō-nē-ən How to pronounce draconian (audio) , drə- \

Definition of draconian

1 law : of, relating to, or characteristic of Draco or the severe code of laws held to have been framed by him
2 : cruel also : severe draconian littering fines

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Did You Know?

Draconian comes from Draco, the name of a 7th-century B.C. Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. Draco's code was intended to clarify preexistent laws, but its severity is what made it really memorable. In Draco's code, even minor offenses were punishable by death, and failure to pay one's debts could result in slavery. Draconian, as a result, became associated with things cruel or harsh. Something draconian need not always be as cruel as the laws in Draco's code, though - today the word is used in a wide variety of ways and often refers to measures (steep parking fines, for example) that are relatively minor when compared with the death penalty.

Examples of draconian in a Sentence

The editorial criticizes the draconian measures being taken to control the spread of the disease.
Recent Examples on the Web Its draconian quarantines and public panic have changed that trajectory. Spencer Jakab, WSJ, "Coronavirus Is Bruising America’s Oil Patch—How Badly Is the Question," 7 Feb. 2020 This pattern of initial downplay by local authorities and draconian interventions from the central government is a familiar one. Isabelle Niu, Quartz, "The coronavirus reveals China’s weakness in handling public health crises," 4 Feb. 2020 In the case of draconian employers or managers, video might be required as an overkill form of check-in. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "Tracking the future of remote workplaces: Apps, communication, and liability," 3 Feb. 2020 This may be thanks to the prompt, if perhaps slightly draconian, quarantine measures instituted by the Chinese government. Popular Science, "A small coronavirus breakthrough could aid in the search for a vaccine," 1 Feb. 2020 Western powers piled on increasingly draconian sanctions to force Iran to back down. The Economist, "What is the JCPOA?," 28 Jan. 2020 The quisling government of the Slovak Republic began implementing draconian laws against the Jews, including revoking their right to be educated past the age of 14. National Geographic, "The first official Jewish transport to Auschwitz brought 999 young women. This is their story.," 14 Jan. 2020 This was in protest against a draconian law passed by the British Indian government barring Indians from bearing arms. Manavi Kapur, Quartz India, "The story of Jamia, the “anti-national” university born of deep Indian nationalism," 29 Dec. 2019 His depiction of children subject to draconian rules morphed into a large-scale challenge to the repressive deployment of tradition and law. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "The Paradox at the Heart of Abbas Kiarostami’s Early Films," 26 July 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'draconian.' 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 draconian

1775, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for draconian

Latin Dracon-, Draco, from Greek Drakōn Draco (Athenian lawgiver)

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The first known use of draconian was in 1775

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Last Updated

15 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Draconian.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/draconian. Accessed 20 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for draconian


How to pronounce draconian (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of draconian

formal + disapproving : very severe or cruel

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for draconian

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with draconian

Britannica English: Translation of draconian for Arabic Speakers

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