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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The same would be true in the rare cases when the wife is recalcitrant. Rabbi Avi Weiss,, "Ki Teitzei parsha: Protecting the modern day agunah," 24 Aug. 2020 And so what began as a way of protecting viral genomes would have become the way life stores all its genes—except for those of some recalcitrant, contrary viruses. The Economist, "The viral universe Viruses have big impacts on ecology and evolution as well as human health," 20 Aug. 2020 For the most recalcitrant, this involves multiple home visits in full PPE. The Economist, "Fighting covid-19 England’s contact-tracing system (finally) gets parochial," 15 Aug. 2020 Much like bars before them, or nail and hair salons even earlier, gym owners in California and beyond have fashioned themselves as the newest foot soldiers in the small but recalcitrant resistance against business shutdowns. Teo Armus, Washington Post, "‘It’s a lifestyle’: California gyms refuse to close, defying statewide restrictions," 11 Aug. 2020 When Mr Garner was killed, America had a president who could bring together the nation at moments of racial tension, and a Justice Department that baby-sat recalcitrant police departments. The Economist, "Race and social change The power of protest and the legacy of George Floyd," 11 June 2020 Congress lacks a realistic power to arrest and detain recalcitrant executive branch officials on its own, and administrations of both parties have declined to prosecute officials who defy subpoenas on a president’s orders. Charlie Savage, New York Times, "House Can See Mueller’s Secret Grand Jury Evidence, Appeals Court Rules," 10 Mar. 2020 For those picturing state engineers and dam construction crews, court orders in hand, storming a property to make required repairs on a dam with a recalcitrant owner, think again. Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan's dam safety unit: 2 staff for entire state, a supervisor, and $397K," 24 May 2020 And finally, a recalcitrant Congress had to be convinced this endeavor was worth funding. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "A 2024 Moon landing may sound crazy, but NASA is giving its best shot," 11 May 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about recalcitrant

Time Traveler for recalcitrant

Time Traveler

The first known use of recalcitrant was in 1843

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about recalcitrant

Statistics for recalcitrant

Last Updated

3 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Recalcitrant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for recalcitrant


How to pronounce recalcitrant (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Homophone Quiz

  • three bears two of them look like theyre whispering to a third bear who looks chuffed to be the center of attention
  • In order to judge how people felt, the senator's office hired a firm to take a ______.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!