mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio) \

Definition of misdemeanor

1 : a crime less serious than a felony (see felony sense 2) defacing school property is a misdemeanor— Jessica Portner
2 : misdeed Student misdemeanors will not go unpunished.

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What is meant by 'crimes and misdemeanors'?

Misdemeanor comes from demeanor, which means “behavior toward others” or “outward manner” (as in “his quiet demeanor”), itself derived from the verb demean, which means “to conduct or behave (oneself) usually in a proper manner”—not to be confused with the other and much more common verb demean that means “to lower in character, status, or reputation” (as in “I won’t demean myself by working for so little money”). These two verbs are spelled the same way but come from different roots.

Therefore, misdemeanor literally means “bad behavior toward others.” This led to parallel usage as both general bad behavior and legal bad behavior. In American law, a misdemeanor is “a crime less serious than a felony.” A felony is defined as “a federal crime for which the punishment may be death or imprisonment for more than a year.” As misdemeanor became more specific, crime became the more general term for any legal offense.

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” found in Article Two, Section 4 of the Constitution, has been used in English law since the 14th century, as have other fixed phrases using synonymous terms, such as “rules and regulations” and “emoluments and salaries.” It can be very difficult to distinguish between any of these pairs of words, and their frequent use together renders them less technical in today’s highly specific legal vocabulary. “High crimes” are serious crimes committed by those with some office or rank, and was used in the language describing impeachment proceedings of members of the British Parliament in the 18th century.

Examples of misdemeanor in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Oakland residents 38-year old Misty Cross, 36-year old Tolani King and 25-year old Jesse Turner will face misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstructing the eviction process, according to Kelly. Alaa Elassar, CNN, "Homeless mothers with Oakland's 'Moms 4 Housing' have been forcibly evicted from a vacant home they were occupying," 15 Jan. 2020 The Lincoln County Sherriff reported only seven arrests for misdemeanor charges — mostly trespassing, but one Canadian guy was busted for indecent exposure after peeing near the Area 51 gate. Jordan Runtagh, PEOPLE.com, "The Storming of Area 51: A Covert Journey to the Heart of America’s Worst-Kept Secret," 13 Jan. 2020 Since pleading guilty in September to a misdemeanor charge of Social Security fraud, she has been attacked on social media, said her attorney David Tarras. Jane Musgrave, USA TODAY, "Former Mrs. Florida headed to prison for stealing elderly mom’s Social Security checks," 11 Jan. 2020 Staggs trial on the misdemeanor charges began Tuesday. Carol Robinson | Crobinson@al.com, al, "East Alabama woman convicted of 47 animal cruelty charges; gets 30 days in jail," 9 Jan. 2020 The man is expected to face charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and burglary, among other misdemeanor charges, police said. Julian Gill, Houston Chronicle, "Man arrested after barricading himself in home with 2-year-old in SW Houston," 29 Dec. 2019 Another teen was sent to the program last year after a probation violation related to a misdemeanor battery charge. Joaquin Palomino, SFChronicle.com, "Amid historic shifts in juvenile justice, some counties lock up kids for treatment," 29 Dec. 2019 Under the misdemeanor charge, Cole can be arrested only in Washington state, NBC affiliate KING 5 reported. Phil Helsel, NBC News, "Washington state charges alleged neo-Nazi leader after Texas traffic stop turns up guns," 19 Dec. 2019 In 2018, he was convicted for a misdemeanor domestic violence charge that resulted in a Multnomah County Circuit Court no-contact order with that victim. oregonlive, "Injured woman found in car trunk in Portland; man arrested for kidnapping, assault, police say," 16 Dec. 2019

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

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for misdemeanor

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

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Statistics for misdemeanor

Last Updated

18 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Misdemeanor.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor. Accessed 18 January 2020.

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More Definitions for misdemeanor


How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of misdemeanor

law : a crime that is not very serious : a crime that is less serious than a felony


mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio) \

Kids Definition of misdemeanor

1 : a crime less serious than a felony


mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio) \

Legal Definition of misdemeanor

: a crime that carries a less severe punishment than a felony specifically : a crime punishable by a fine and by a term of imprisonment not to be served in a penitentiary and not to exceed one year — compare felony

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