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

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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.

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 Alas, that hasn’t been entirely true, even though some of the blame rests with recalcitrant, science-denying GOP governors like Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 23 Aug. 2021 Maggie’s mission takes the team through a subway tunnel, challenged by lurking walkers and a recalcitrant Negan. Rodney Ho, ajc, 23 Aug. 2021 Though he was described as willing to talk, the C.I.A. moved him to a secret prison and immediately applied interrogation methods reserved for recalcitrant prisoners. Sam Roberts, New York Times, 12 Aug. 2021 Plagued by inhospitable terrain and recalcitrant workers, the line took 13 years to be built by a French company that was guaranteed a profit of 20% above its costs. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 6 Aug. 2021 To force Canberra to back down, the Chinese government unsheathed what has become its weapon of choice against recalcitrant nations: economic coercion. Michael Schuman, The Atlantic, 28 July 2021 To suppress the surge of the Delta variant, the US must convince a large block of the remaining tens of millions reluctant and recalcitrant unvaccinated adults to get a shot. Jonathan Reiner, CNN, 30 July 2021 Consumer spending drove most of the growth, especially on services, as even the most recalcitrant politicians finally lifted lockdowns. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 29 July 2021 Republicans are taking an ever more recalcitrant pose, insisting that the bill include mechanisms to pay for infrastructure projects but refusing to raise taxes or enable the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 21 July 2021

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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The first known use of recalcitrant was in 1843

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Last Updated

16 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Recalcitrant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for recalcitrant



English Language Learners Definition of recalcitrant

: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on recalcitrant

Nglish: Translation of recalcitrant for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of recalcitrant for Arabic Speakers


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