adjective, often capitalized
dra·​co·​ni·​an | \drā-ˈkō-nē-ən, 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

Courts have tended to enforce these kinds of agreements, sometimes even when the contract allows for arguably draconian results. Andrea M. Matwyshyn, WSJ, "The ‘Internet of Bodies’ Is Here. Are Courts and Regulators Ready?," 12 Nov. 2018 Meng’s disappearance also puts more attention on the Xi’s widening anti-corruption campaign in China, and the country’s draconian detainment and judicial processes. Jen Kirby, Vox, "How the weird case of the missing Interpol chief got even weirder," 8 Oct. 2018 He's been able to pursue extreme, draconian forms of state violence. Lucy Diavolo, Teen Vogue, "Meet Ash Sarkar, the Communist Who Called Piers Morgan an "Idiot"," 15 July 2018 Some diplomats said the Americans would never accept the draconian cuts proposed by China and Russia. New York Times, "China and Russia Move to Cut Human Rights Jobs in U.N. Peacekeeping," 27 June 2018 But for close to 15 years, Johnson’s history surfaced periodically thanks to a legion of supporters, intent on overturning his conviction of violating a draconian law in early 20th century U.S. justice linked to the fighter. Santos A. Perez, miamiherald, "Trump's pardon of Johnson 'was way overdue' | Miami Herald," 27 May 2018 Racial profiling, disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates, and biased apprehension tactics such as stop-and-frisk work to make black immigrants especially vulnerable to draconian immigration enforcement tactics. Shamira Ibrahim, Daily Intelligencer, "Patricia Okoumou and the Threat to Black Immigrants," 13 July 2018 But on Saturday, Waters appeared in front of the Los Angeles city hall to speak at one of the dozens of rallies across the country protesting the Trump administration's draconian treatment of immigrant families at the US-Mexico border. Luke Darby, GQ, "Maxine Waters Responds to Death Threats from Trump Supporters: "You Better Shoot Straight"," 1 July 2018 Congress has softened the most draconian parts of the bill. The Economist, "The Trump administration plans to crack down on Chinese investment," 28 June 2018

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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Statistics for draconian

Last Updated

22 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for draconian

The first known use of draconian was in 1775

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More Definitions for draconian



English Language Learners Definition of draconian

: very severe or cruel

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with draconian

Britannica English: Translation of draconian for Arabic Speakers

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What made you want to look up draconian? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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