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 Sam’s is on Belden Place, where outdoor restaurants managed to get through some of the more draconian health regulations. Carl Nolte, San Francisco Chronicle, "In 'ghost town' San Francisco, explorer discovers signs of life," 20 Feb. 2021 For decades, Rohingya in Myanmar have experienced extreme, draconian restrictions on everything from freedom of movement to health care, practicing their religion, childbirth, and even identifying as Rohingya. Matthew Smith, Time, "Why Joe Biden Should Help the Rohingya People of Myanmar," 6 Jan. 2021 President Biden’s quick but cautious moves to undo the more draconian immigration policies of his predecessor spawn both trepidation and expectation in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Dudley Althaus, ExpressNews.com, "Biden’s border plans raise hopes and fears in South Texas," 23 Jan. 2021 Party leaders say the administration’s unwillingness to collaborate with them on more targeted restrictions means the state’s measures have been drastic, draconian and devastating for their constituents. Christen Smith, Washington Examiner, "Grants for Pennsylvania small businesses ensnared in political gridlock," 15 Jan. 2021 Time after time this year, South Korea prevented the coronavirus from spreading uncontrollably, applying its elite testing-and-tracing practices that have become a global model for managing the pandemic without draconian, economy-sapping lockdowns. Peter Pae, Bloomberg.com, "Fresh Virus Wave Is Testing South Korea’s No-Lockdown Strategy," 21 Dec. 2020 Even mega-promoters like Live Nation and AEG have seen revenues vanish and instituted draconian layoffs and cutbacks. Los Angeles Times, "With COVID stimulus in sight, L.A.’s desperate nightclub owners hope it’s not too little, too late," 17 Dec. 2020 Worse, despite the draconian government response, Argentina has the seventh-highest number of COVID-19 infections in the world. Antonella Marty, National Review, "Argentina’s Left-Wing President Is Deepening the COVID-19 Recession," 25 Nov. 2020 The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division filed lawsuits and amicus briefs seeking to vindicate religious and economic liberties against draconian COVID restrictions imposed by state governments. The Editors, National Review, "Well Done, Mr. Attorney General," 15 Dec. 2020

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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Time Traveler for draconian

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The first known use of draconian was in 1775

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Last Updated

27 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Draconian.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/draconian. Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of draconian

formal + disapproving : very severe or cruel

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