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

Why the protests are happening — and what to take from them The immediate spark for the protest was a draconian new labor law rammed through by Orbán’s party on Wednesday. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "Hungary’s prime minister stole the country’s democracy. Now Hungarians are rising up.," 17 Dec. 2018 Democrats fear draconian budget cuts with Dunleavy’s win. Dylan Scott, Vox, "Mike Dunleavy elected governor of Alaska: rare 2018 pickup for Republicans," 7 Nov. 2018 Probably because of loyalty because Kobach came in and helped him craft his draconian immigration policy. Fox News, "Spoiler alert: Moderates beat back progressives in primaries," 9 Aug. 2018 Spirit’s draconian baggage policy, which charges for checked and carry-on bags and only includes one small personal item (think a Jansport backpack), has been especially ill received by travelers who are used to being allowed bigger bags. Aditi Shrikant, Vox, "Spirit Airlines is the most on-time airline in America. Here’s why.," 17 Dec. 2018 Related Administration officials are now calculating that draconian economic measures can prompt Iran to declare its military mission accomplished in Syria and bring its forces home. Michael R. Gordon, WSJ, "Trump Digs In for a Long, Cold War With Iran," 4 Nov. 2018 But instead of changing the mobile policy to match the more forgiving TV-and-broadband policy, AT&T is changing the TV-and-broadband policy to match the more draconian terms of its cellular service. Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, "AT&T makes it more expensive to cancel DirecTV or Internet service," 3 Dec. 2018 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

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

15 Mar 2019

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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

formal + disapproving : very severe or cruel

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More from Merriam-Webster on draconian

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with draconian

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for draconian

Britannica English: Translation of draconian for Arabic Speakers

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