pe·​on·​age ˈpē-ə-nij How to pronounce peonage (audio)
: the use of laborers bound in servitude because of debt
: a system of convict labor by which convicts are leased to contractors
: the condition of a peon

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web For many years, prosecutions based on alleged violations of the 13th Amendment — passed in 1865 to outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude — focused on peonage cases, the use of financial debt as a loophole to enslave workers. San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 July 2022 Labor trafficking follows the same definition, except its purpose is subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Celina Tebor, USA TODAY, 12 Jan. 2022 Sometimes, exile was self-inflicted when people fled their homes before they could be sold off to debt peonage. Kristin Collier, Longreads, 1 Dec. 2021 Amendment prohibitions against peonage and involuntary servitude. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 14 Apr. 2021 Among these players are the approximately 96% who will not go pro, and for whom a college athletic scholarship, where they are expected to subordinate education to athletic performance, is more akin to peonage. Time, 30 Mar. 2021 By now, so much online territory has been seized by our e-overlords that the rest of us have been reduced to e-peonage. Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 8 Mar. 2021 All this on-screen peonage feels rather academic given the tyranny of real-life lockdown. Armond White, National Review, 15 Jan. 2021 In parts of southern Mexico, such as Yucatán and Chiapas, debt peonage tied laborers to plantations as effectively as violence. Alice Baumgartner, The New Yorker, 19 Nov. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'peonage.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


peon + -age

First Known Use

1844, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of peonage was in 1844

Dictionary Entries Near peonage

Cite this Entry

“Peonage.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.

Legal Definition



pe·​on·​age ˈpē-ə-nij How to pronounce peonage (audio)
: labor in a condition of servitude to extinguish a debt
the holding of any person to service or labor under the system known as peonage is abolished and forever prohibited U.S. Code

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