du·​ress | \ du̇-ˈres How to pronounce duress (audio) also dyu̇- \

Definition of duress

1 law : forcible restraint or restriction while the German army was still held in duress by the Versailles treaty— S. L. A. Marshall
2 law : compulsion (see compulsion sense 1a) by threat gave the statement under duress specifically : unlawful constraint held under duress

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Duress: Its Origin and Relations

Duress is a word of hardy stock. It has been a part of the English language since the 14th century, and has a number of long-lived relatives. Duress itself came into Middle English through the Anglo-French duresce (meaning "hardness" or "severity"), which stems from Latin durus, meaning "hard." Some obvious relatives of this robust root are durable, endure, and obdurate (meaning "unyielding" or "hardened in feelings"). Some others are dour (meaning "harsh," "unyielding," or "gloomy") and during.

Examples of duress in a Sentence

He gave the information under duress. complied with the order only under duress
Recent Examples on the Web His ability to remain calm under duress and lead the team on game-winning drives in the fourth quarter could be the difference between the Seahawks’ winning or losing in the playoffs. oregonlive, "Seattle Seahawks rally for a win over the San Francisco 49ers: 10 studs and duds," 3 Jan. 2021 Decisions can and do backfire, especially when they’re made under duress. Jamie Ducharme, Time, "Why the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Caused a Widespread Existential Crisis," 29 Dec. 2020 Each of the two succeeding acting inspectors general quit after a few months under duress as Pompeo attacked their work. Tracy Wilkinson Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "What does the future hold for Michael Pompeo, Trump’s most Trumpy Cabinet secretary?," 28 Dec. 2020 Cousins was under frequent duress, taking three sacks and 11 hits. Andrew Krammer, Star Tribune, "Vikings kicker Dan Bailey breaks out of slump, going 5-for-5," 20 Dec. 2020 If your quarantine has looked anything like mine, Swift’s productivity—her capacity to create under duress, to dutifully imagine and populate elaborate new worlds—is staggering. Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, "The Intimacy and Comfort of Taylor Swift’s “evermore”," 14 Dec. 2020 Minnesota has eyed one-time stimulus checks to locals under financial duress. Washington Post, "Live updates: U.S. reports more than 200,000 new infections and 100,000 hospitalizations for first time," 3 Dec. 2020 Like the rest of the island commonwealth, it has been lashed and damaged by hurricanes in recent years and under financial duress, raising questions about the observatory’s future. Dennis Overbye, New York Times, "Arecibo Observatory, a Great Eye on the Cosmos, Is Going Dark," 19 Nov. 2020 But he was forced to sign an agreement, under duress, to stay away from children. David A. Hammer, NOLA.com, "Monster in our midst: Despite predatory past, deacon welcomed back to Catholic institutions," 17 Dec. 2020

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

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for duress

Middle English duresse, from Anglo-French duresce hardness, severity, from Latin duritia, from durus — see during

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Time Traveler for duress

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The first known use of duress was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

13 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Duress.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duress. Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for duress


How to pronounce duress (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of duress

formal : force or threats meant to make someone do something


du·​ress | \ du̇-ˈres, dyu̇- How to pronounce duress (audio) \

Legal Definition of duress

: wrongful and usually unlawful compulsion (as threats of physical violence) that induces a person to act against his or her will : coercion also : the affirmative defense of having acted under duress — see also economic duress — compare necessity, undue influence

Note: A person may be able to avoid the consequences of his or her acts under the law if they were performed while under duress. For example, a contract made under duress is voidable by the coerced party. Similarly, a will signed under duress is invalid. Duress may also be used to justify a criminal act.

History and Etymology for duress

Anglo-French duresce, literally, hardness, harshness, from Old French, from Latin duritia, from durus hard

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