adjective re·cal·ci·trant \ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt\

Definition of recalcitrant

  1. 1 :  obstinately defiant of authority or restraint

  2. 2a :  difficult to manage or operateb :  not responsive to treatmentc :  resistant this subject is recalcitrant both to observation and to experiment — G. G. Simpson



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Examples of recalcitrant in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. You are not the kind of person who beats on recalcitrant vending machines. —Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City, 1984

  5. 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

  6. the manager worried that the recalcitrant employee would try to undermine his authority

  7. a heart-to-heart talk with the recalcitrant youth revealed that he had a troubled life at home

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

First Known Use: 1843

Synonym Discussion of 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.

RECALCITRANT Defined for English Language Learners


adjective re·cal·ci·trant \ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt\

Definition of recalcitrant for English Language Learners

  • : stubbornly refusing to obey rules or orders

Medical Dictionary


adjective re·cal·ci·trant \ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt\

Medical Definition of recalcitrant

  1. :  not responsive to treatment severe recalcitrant psoriasis recalcitrant warts

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