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

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 In a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday, Trump threatened even more draconian tariffs to come. Alan Rappeport, BostonGlobe.com, "Harley-Davidson will move some production out of US," 25 June 2018 While America’s focus has rightfully been on the Trump administration’s draconian border policing, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is out here balling! Stephen A. Crockett Jr., The Root, "EPA Chief Scott '2 Chainz' Pruitt Spent Nearly $3,000 on 'Tactical' Pants and Polos: Report," 23 June 2018 In deference to these local interests, the federal government resisted engaging in draconian deportation measures. Time Staff, Time, "The 25 Moments From American History That Matter Right Now," 28 June 2018 Linda Ackerman, President of Marian Bergeson Excellence in Public Service Series The high cost of housing is driving residents out of our state; is this an unintended consequence of the draconian regulations that face the housing industry here? Amy Chance, sacbee, ""Build a lot more of it": What California can do to solve its housing problem," 18 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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Last Updated

13 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for draconian

The first known use of draconian was in 1775

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English Language Learners Definition of draconian

: very severe or cruel

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Britannica English: Translation of draconian for Arabic Speakers

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