pil·​lo·​ry | \ ˈpi-lə-rē How to pronounce pillory (audio) , ˈpil-rē \
plural pillories

Definition of pillory

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a device formerly used for publicly punishing offenders consisting of a wooden frame with holes in which the head and hands can be locked
2 : a means for exposing one to public scorn or ridicule


pilloried; pillorying

Definition of pillory (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to set in a pillory as punishment
2 : to expose to public contempt, ridicule, or scorn

Illustration of pillory

Illustration of pillory


pillory 1

In the meaning defined above

Did you know?

In days gone by, criminals who got caught might well have found themselves in the stocks (which held the feet or both feet and hands) or a pillory. Both of those forms of punishment—and the words that name them—have been around since the Middle Ages. We latched onto pillory from the Anglo-French pilori, which has the same meaning as our English term but the exact origins of which are uncertain. For centuries, pillory referred only to the wooden frame used to hold a ne'er-do-well, but by the early 1600s, folks had turned the word into a verb for the act of putting someone in a pillory. Within a century, they had further expanded the verb to cover any process that led to as much public humiliation as being pilloried.

Examples of pillory in a Sentence

Verb The press pilloried the judge for her decision.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun He was fined, endured public humiliation in a pillory and was then thrown in prison. Roger J. Kreuz, The Conversation, 15 Sep. 2020 He was convicted and sentenced to stand in the pillory and to be branded on the hand with the letters S.S. (for slave stealer). al, 23 Aug. 2019 If everyone in Congress got 20 calls a day from Judy at Card Services, the voice actress who made the recording would be in a pillory on the National Mall. James Lileks, National Review, 22 Aug. 2019 Game of Thrones is back for a victory lap (that might end up being more of a Shame Nun-style pillory). Peter Rubin, WIRED, 17 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Still, at the outset of the race, some Democrats viewed Youngkin as a candidate who would be easy to pillory. Dan Merica And Eric Bradner, CNN, 30 Oct. 2021 But Sanders' early success this time around worried party officials that Republicans would pillory the nominee as a socialist and cost them another election. Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY, 7 Nov. 2020 Democrats seem stunned when their GOP opponents pillory them with lies, rage and ad hominem attacks. Robert B. Reich, Star Tribune, 17 Aug. 2020 Pavone was also pilloried in the press for placing the fetus on an altar, even by those who would normally count themselves among his allies. Nicholas Rowan, Washington Examiner, 24 Apr. 2020 The study, posted as a preprint on April 17, has been pilloried non-stop. David H. Freedman, Wired, 1 May 2020 He was relentlessly pilloried, mocked, and distorted in the press for it. Rich Lowry, National Review, 19 Apr. 2020 The platform has several forums dedicated specifically to identifying and pillorying Karens. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, 6 May 2020 McGrath also echoed Democratic governors and senators who pilloried McConnell's stance as one that will hurt average Americans first. Phillip M. Bailey, The Courier-Journal, 23 Apr. 2020 See More

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

First Known Use of pillory


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1600, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pillory


Middle English, from Anglo-French pilori

Learn More About pillory

Time Traveler for pillory

Time Traveler

The first known use of pillory was in the 13th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About pillory

Dictionary Entries Near pillory




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for pillory

Cite this Entry

“Pillory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillory. Accessed 29 May. 2022.

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

More Definitions for pillory


pil·​lo·​ry | \ ˈpi-lə-rē How to pronounce pillory (audio) \
plural pillories

Kids Definition of pillory

: a device once used for punishing someone in public consisting of a wooden frame with holes in which the head and hands can be locked

More from Merriam-Webster on pillory

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for pillory

Nglish: Translation of pillory for Spanish Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Name That Color

  • a light greenish blue color
  • Name that color:
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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