pe·​on ˈpē-ˌän How to pronounce peon (audio)
 also  for sense 2 pā-ˈōn,
British also for sense 1
ˈpyün How to pronounce peon (audio)
plural peons or peones pā-ˈō-nēz How to pronounce peon (audio)
: any of various workers in India, Sri Lanka, or Malaysia: such as
: a member of the landless laboring class in Spanish America
plural peons
: a person held in compulsory servitude to a master for the working out of an indebtedness

Examples of peon in a Sentence

“Those rich politicians don't care about peons like us,” she complained. the company had plenty of low-paying positions for people who were content to be peons all their lives
Recent Examples on the Web The comic book will also share information about the present-day Kumeyaay Nation and its cultural traditions like peon, a game of chance played with bones, sticks and blankets primarily during traditional Southern Californian tribal gatherings. Lauren J. Mapp, San Diego Union-Tribune, 22 July 2023 The problem is manifested, for instance, in the absurdly long queues for even low-paying government jobs: India Today reported yesterday (June 6) that the government of Uttar Pradesh had received more than 5.5 million applications for the positions of gardeners, watchmen, and office peons. Niharika Sharma, Quartz, 7 June 2023 The free event starts Jan. 6 with a fireworks show at 7 p.m. followed by the first grand entry of the weekend scheduled for 8 p.m. Between the powwow singing, dancing, drumming and peon games contests, there is nearly $125,000 in prize money available to this year’s competitors. San Diego Union-Tribune, 2 Jan. 2023 Time ran out far too soon for my old friend Mike Leach, which is cruel and unfair and truly sad, because Mike always seemed to have so much time for everybody else, even a young peon journalist like me in 1999. Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY, 14 Dec. 2022 Kids and adults played peon or hand games traditional to the region. Debra Utacia Krol, The Arizona Republic, 28 Aug. 2022 The peon brought mixed tea in small, crudely made cups, with a rose design, and also a little plate of biscuits. Daniyal Mueenuddin, The New Yorker, 31 Aug. 2021 But the truth is that Taiwan, one of Asia’s most vibrant and boisterous democracies, is a terrible example to cite as a cultural other populated by submissive peons. Andrew Leonard, Wired, 18 Mar. 2020 Battling the game's wimpy peons could've been more fun if Respawn had been more generous with Force powers or the meter's recharge. Sam MacHkovech, Ars Technica, 14 Nov. 2019 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'peon.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


(sense 1) borrowed from French pion "(in 17th & 18th-century French India) infantry soldier, domestic servant," going back to Old French peon, pion "foot soldier"; (senses 2-3) borrowed from American Spanish peón "laborer, infantry soldier," going back to Late Latin pedōn-, pedō "person with flat feet, person going on foot" (Medieval Latin, "foot soldier") — more at pawn entry 1

Note: Sense 1 is perhaps influenced in usage by Portuguese peão with a similar range of meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, notes an earlier pronunciation /pɪˈuːn/ or /pjuːn/ for sense 1.

First Known Use

1609, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of peon was in 1609

Dictionary Entries Near peon

Cite this Entry

“Peon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


pe·​on ˈpē-ˌän How to pronounce peon (audio) -ən How to pronounce peon (audio)
: a poor farm laborer especially in Latin America
: a person who does hard or dull work

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