misdemeanor

noun
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.

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 In October, Sandy resident Jacob K. Wiedrich also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of picketing, parading or demonstrating in the Capitol. Jordan Miller, The Salt Lake Tribune, 13 Jan. 2022 Pham pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count, admitting to illegally parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol. Clare Hymes, Robert Legare, CBS News, 3 Jan. 2022 He was also found guilty of one misdemeanor count of battery. Henri Hollis, ajc, 22 Dec. 2021 Rod Stewart will face a misdemeanor count of simple battery after allegedly punching a security guard during a New Year’s Eve party at a Florida resort. Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, 17 Dec. 2021 This week, an indictment charged Amplify Energy and its subsidiaries with a misdemeanor count of negligent discharge of oil that could result in millions of dollars in criminal penalties. NBC News, 17 Dec. 2021 Rath also faces one misdemeanor count of unlawfully possessing golden eagle parts, and one of unlawfully possessing migratory bird parts. Gene Johnson, BostonGlobe.com, 11 Dec. 2021 Carlile also entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of failure to stop after an accident. Kaitlin Lewis, The Enquirer, 5 Dec. 2021 Anne Arundel police charged him with two felony counts of second-degree child abuse and one misdemeanor count of second-degree assault. Washington Post, 1 Dec. 2021

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.

See More

First Known Use of misdemeanor

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Learn More About misdemeanor

Time Traveler for misdemeanor

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near misdemeanor

misdemeanant

misdemeanor

misdemeanour

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for misdemeanor

Last Updated

18 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Misdemeanor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor. Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for misdemeanor

misdemeanor

noun

English Language Learners Definition of misdemeanor

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

misdemeanor

noun
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
2 : misdeed

misdemeanor

noun
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

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Thing: Flower Edition

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!