os·​tra·​cize | \ ˈä-strə-ˌsīz How to pronounce ostracize (audio) \
ostracized; ostracizing

Definition of ostracize

transitive verb

1 : to exile by ostracism Despite his victories, Themistocles was ostracized by the Athenians.
2 : to exclude from a group by common consent a lonely dissenter, ostracized as an enemy of the people— Robert Brustein

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Ostracize Has Greek Roots

In ancient Greece, prominent citizens whose power or influence threatened the stability of the state could be exiled by a practice called ostracism. Voters would elect to banish another citizen by writing that citizen's name down on a potsherd. Those receiving enough votes would then be subject to temporary exile from the state (usually for ten years). The English verb ostracize can mean "to exile by the ancient method of ostracism," but these days it usually refers to the general exclusion of one person from a group at the agreement of its members. Ostracism and ostracize derive from the Greek ostrakizein ("to banish by voting with potsherds"). Its ancestor, the Greek ostrakon ("shell" or "potsherd"), also helped to give English the word oyster.

Examples of ostracize in a Sentence

She was ostracized from the scientific community for many years because of her radical political beliefs. The other girls ostracized her because of the way she dressed.
Recent Examples on the Web Athenians would first take a vote on whether there should be an ostracophoria, or an election to ostracize. Megan Gannon, Smithsonian Magazine, "Ancient Greeks Voted to Kick Politicians Out of Athens If Enough People Didn’t Like Them," 27 Oct. 2020 The killing set off a wave of international revulsion and calls to ostracize Saudi leadership. Washington Post, "Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee and pro-democracy group he founded sue Saudi crown prince in his slaying," 20 Oct. 2020 Privacy experts have warned that any cache of location data related to health issues could make businesses and individuals vulnerable to being ostracized if the data are exposed. NBC News, "Showdown looms between Silicon Valley, U.S. states over contact tracing apps," 17 Apr. 2020 For centuries, diseases have been used as an excuse to ostracize groups of people who are either perceived to be prone to infection, or from places where the illnesses are thought to have originated. Jingnan Peng, The Christian Science Monitor, "Why disease boosts discrimination, and what that costs society," 31 Mar. 2020 Many people from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, are desperate for treatment, but the government’s approach has led many to be ostracized. Mike Ives, New York Times, "Coronavirus, Iowa, Brexit: Your Tuesday Briefing," 4 Feb. 2020 And they are often ostracized by or isolated from resources like family, church and other community organizations. Laura Newberry, Los Angeles Times, "Coronavirus fears haven’t stopped the sex trade on Los Angeles streets," 15 Apr. 2020 With the guidelines, WHO was trying to bring an end to unnecessary stigma that could ostracize people and damage business. Mike Stobbe, Fortune, "Wuhan coronavirus? 2019 nCoV? Naming a new disease," 8 Feb. 2020 His great uncle, as in real life, abdicated the throne to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson, for which he was ostracized by the Royal Family. Rachael Bunyan, Time, "The True Story Behind Prince Charles' Storyline on The Crown Season 3," 15 Nov. 2019

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

1649, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ostracize

borrowed from Greek ostrakízein "(in 5th-century Athens) to banish an individual chosen after a vote taken by writing names on potsherds," from óstrakon "earthen vessel, potsherd" + -izein -ize — more at ostracon

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Time Traveler for ostracize

Time Traveler

The first known use of ostracize was in 1649

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Cite this Entry

“Ostracize.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ostracize. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for ostracize



English Language Learners Definition of ostracize

: to not allow (someone) to be included in a group : to exclude (someone) from a group


os·​tra·​cize | \ ˈä-strə-ˌsīz How to pronounce ostracize (audio) \
ostracized; ostracizing

Kids Definition of ostracize

: to shut out of a group After I cheated, I was ostracized by the other players.

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