Definition of duress
- while the German army was still held in duress by the Versailles treaty
- —S. L. A. Marshall
- gave the statement under duress
- held under duress
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He gave the information under duress.
complied with the order only under duress
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.
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.
Duress is pressure that one person or entity puts on another person to do something that he or she would normally not do.
Let's say Artie owns a restaurant called Vesuvio. One day, a big bald guy comes into the place and tells Artie that he has to sign a contract to start buying linens from his friend or he'll "make life hard."
Artie, fearing that he'll be harmed physically or that the restaurant will be vandalized, agrees to buy linens from the friend, even though they cost twice as much as those from other distributors.
Artie has made the agreement under duress.
Using force, false imprisonment, threats or psychological pressure to make someone do something he or she normally wouldn't do is illegal and can negate any contracts that result from duress.
Accordingly, in our example, if Artie were brave enough to stop buying the linens, he could tell the court that he signed the contract under duress.
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