Definition of recalcitrant
- this subject is recalcitrant both to observation and to experiment
- —G. G. Simpson
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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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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.
First Known Use: 1843See Words from the same year
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