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 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 His strategy did not go beyond pillorying Trudeau, portraying the prime minister as a cipher and promising tax relief for the middle class. David Shribman, Los Angeles Times, "Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau loses his sheen — and his majority," 22 Oct. 2019 Moderate candidates pilloried the Medicare-for-all program backed by Warren and Sanders as overly expensive, unworkable and likely to raise costs on middle-class Americans. Anchorage Daily News, "Warren faces first sustained attack in debate that begins with unified condemnation of Trump," 16 Oct. 2019 As word of the pardons has spread, Bevin has been pilloried on social media. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "By pardoning rapists and killers, former governor Matt Bevin showed us who he really is," 13 Dec. 2019 All sides of Myanmar’s kaleidoscope of ethnic divisions use the internet to push their agendas, and Facebook in particular has been pilloried for failing to block content that feeds the violence. Shashank Bengali, latimes.com, "An increasingly popular authoritarian tool: Shutting down the internet," 27 June 2019 Macron was pilloried in the press at home for seeming too obsequious: much of the French press focused on one photograph of Trump leading Macron by the hand down a White House pathway, like a parent with a child. Washington Post, "D-Day: Trump and world leaders celebrate the Normandy invasion that saved Europe from Nazism," 7 June 2019 If an athlete's play suffers like Irving's did, he or she can be pilloried by voices who simply don't know the full circumstances. Ben Golliver, courant.com, "Former Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving shines a light on an overlooked issue in the NBA: grief," 30 Sep. 2019 The 2016 champion has been pilloried for the Celtics’ poor season throughout the summer, shouldering a lion’s share of the blame following a disappointing playoff exit. Michael Shapiro, SI.com, "2020 MVP Primer: Examining the Favorites, Dark Horses and Longshots," 23 July 2019 Nike, Dolce & Gabbana, Mercedes Benz, and Samsung are just a handful of examples of foreign companies that have also been pilloried for not toeing China’s ideological line. Mary Hui, Quartz, "A sports drink called Pocari Sweat is caught in the middle of a Hong Kong-China spat," 11 July 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.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillory. Accessed 27 January 2020.

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More Definitions for pillory


How to pronounce pillory (audio)

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on pillory

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for pillory

Spanish Central: Translation of pillory

Nglish: Translation of pillory for Spanish Speakers

Comments on pillory

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one that suddenly gains wealth or power

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