re·​cal·​ci·​trant | \ ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt How to pronounce recalcitrant (audio) \

Definition of recalcitrant

1 : obstinately defiant of authority or restraint
2a : difficult to manage or operate
b : not responsive to treatment
c : resistant this subject is recalcitrant both to observation and to experiment— G. G. Simpson

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Other Words from recalcitrant

recalcitrant noun

Choose the Right Synonym for recalcitrant

unruly, ungovernable, intractable, refractory, recalcitrant, willful, headstrong mean not submissive to government or control. unruly implies lack of discipline or incapacity for discipline and often connotes waywardness or turbulence of behavior. unruly children ungovernable implies either an escape from control or guidance or a state of being unsubdued and incapable of controlling oneself or being controlled by others. ungovernable rage intractable suggests stubborn resistance to guidance or control. intractable opponents of the hazardous-waste dump refractory stresses resistance to attempts to manage or to mold. special schools for refractory children recalcitrant suggests determined resistance to or defiance of authority. acts of sabotage by a recalcitrant populace willful implies an obstinate determination to have one's own way. a willful disregard for the rights of others headstrong suggests self-will impatient of restraint, advice, or suggestion. a headstrong young cavalry officer

Did You Know?

Long before any human was dubbed "recalcitrant" in English (that first occurred, as best we know, in one of William Thackeray's works in 1843), there were stubborn mules (and horses) kicking back their heels. The ancient Romans noted as much (Pliny the Elder among them), and they had a word for it - "recalcitrare," which literally means "to kick back." (Its root calc-, meaning "heel," is also the root of "calcaneus," the large bone of the heel in humans.) Certainly Roman citizens in Pliny's time were sometimes willful and hardheaded - as attested by various Latin words meaning "stubborn" - but it wasn’t until later that writers of Late Latin applied recalcitrare and its derivative adjective to humans who were stubborn as mules.

Examples of recalcitrant in a Sentence

But Smith managed to rally and to learn, through trial and error, how to milk what he needed out of an often recalcitrant medical system. — Gina Kolata, New York Times Book Review, 7 Sept. 1997 For anyone who has ever struggled to extract a recalcitrant cork from a bottle … the value of a good corkscrew is a given. — Ettagale Blauer, Wine Spectator, 31 Oct. 1996 In November 1891, James Naismith, a 32-year-old Canadian-born instructor at the International Y.M.C.A. Training School in Springfield, was asked to invent an indoor game to help tame the members of a recalcitrant gym class. — Scott Ellsworth, New York Times, 29 May 1994 George and I were down in a trench hacking at one particularly recalcitrant oak carcass when a local farmer pulled up in his truck. — P. J. O'Rourke, Republican Party Reptile, 1987 You are not the kind of person who beats on recalcitrant vending machines. — Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City, 1984 the manager worried that the recalcitrant employee would try to undermine his authority a heart-to-heart talk with the recalcitrant youth revealed that he had a troubled life at home
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Recent Examples on the Web

Maybe a better way to deal with these recalcitrant issues is to combine them so that there is a framework for compromise. Letter Writers, Twin Cities, "Letters: Does Fort Snelling really need a new name?," 25 Aug. 2019 Biometric attendance was introduced, and after discussion with the union and due notice, 300 still-recalcitrant employees were suspended, and 600 were terminated. Raghuram Rajan, Quartz India, "How Indians cleaned up one of their dirtiest cities—and have kept it that way," 12 Aug. 2019 On the other side sit increasingly recalcitrant Remainers. The Economist, "Ditching the gags (and his enemies) Boris Johnson claims his prize," 25 July 2019 Most importantly, the ordinance sticks it to recalcitrant property owners., "Amid winding mountain roads, a village pushes back its encroaching fire threat," 23 July 2019 Rondo is known to be a difficult and recalcitrant but highly cerebral and skilled player. Thomas Beller, The New Yorker, "Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and the N.B.A. Free-Agent Kaleidoscope," 12 July 2019 In our accelerated media age, the machinery of endless repetition constructs recalcitrant social realities and makes changing them hard. Los Angeles Times, "Review: Sarah Lucas show at the Hammer Museum is naked but definitely not afraid," 17 July 2019 In 1983, the Alaska State Troopers (with the support of the governor) were deployed to gather recalcitrant legislators under such a call. James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, "As they consider veto overrides, Alaska lawmakers can’t agree where to meet," 2 July 2019 It has been accepted as fact that recalcitrant patches of grass are painted green and that the ponds used to be dyed blue. Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, "Inside the Cultish Dreamworld of Augusta National," 14 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'recalcitrant.' 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 recalcitrant

1843, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for recalcitrant

Late Latin recalcitrant-, recalcitrans, present participle of recalcitrare to be stubbornly disobedient, from Latin, to kick back, from re- + calcitrare to kick, from calc-, calx heel

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Statistics for recalcitrant

Last Updated

4 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for recalcitrant

The first known use of recalcitrant was in 1843

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More Definitions for recalcitrant



English Language Learners Definition of recalcitrant

formal : stubbornly refusing to obey rules or orders


re·​cal·​ci·​trant | \ ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt How to pronounce recalcitrant (audio) \

Medical Definition of recalcitrant

: not responsive to treatment severe recalcitrant psoriasis recalcitrant warts

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Comments on recalcitrant

What made you want to look up recalcitrant? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make a temporary encampment

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