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

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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 the French term 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, "Charlie Hebdo shootings served as an extreme example of the history of attacks on satirists," 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, "Slaves arrived in America, and Alabama, years before 1619," 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, "For Whom the Ringtone Tolls," 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, "The Paradox of the Incredible Shrinking Comic-Con Expansion," 17 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb 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, "'A real contrast': How Joe Biden won Democrats and the White House with a message of healing," 7 Nov. 2020 Democrats seem stunned when their GOP opponents pillory them with lies, rage and ad hominem attacks. Robert B. Reich, Star Tribune, "Politics requires the ability both to govern and to fight," 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, "Lightning rod anti-abortion priest leads Trump effort to win Catholics in 2020," 24 Apr. 2020 The study, posted as a preprint on April 17, has been pilloried non-stop. David H. Freedman, Wired, "A Prophet of Scientific Rigor—and a Covid Contrarian," 1 May 2020 He was relentlessly pilloried, mocked, and distorted in the press for it. Rich Lowry, National Review, "How the Media Completely Blew the Trump Ventilator Story," 19 Apr. 2020 The platform has several forums dedicated specifically to identifying and pillorying Karens. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "How ‘Karen’ Became a Coronavirus Villain," 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, "Mitch McConnell takes a risk igniting firestorm with governors over COVID-19 aid," 23 Apr. 2020 The last thing Jon Gruden, who was pilloried for the Raiders’ decision to trade Mack last year, wants is to be shown up by Mack. Dan Wiederer, chicagotribune.com, "The most impressive thing about Khalil Mack is ______. Our writers fill in the blanks on 4 Mack-related topics before the Bears face the Raiders in Week 5.," 4 Oct. 2019

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for pillory

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

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Cite this Entry

“Pillory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillory. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for pillory



English Language Learners Definition of pillory

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a device that was used in the past for punishing someone in public and that consists of a wooden frame with holes in which the head and hands can be locked



English Language Learners Definition of pillory (Entry 2 of 2)

: to publicly criticize (someone) in a very harsh way


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

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