re·​cal·​ci·​trant | \ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt \

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

With a narrow majority, a small group of recalcitrant freshmen could leave Pelosi short of the 218 votes necessary to become speaker. Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Fox News, "Kansas House candidate Paul Davis subject of new attack for his 'history with strip clubs'," 19 Sep. 2018 During his second day on the stand in Federal District Court in Manhattan, Mr. Skelos was at times evasive or recalcitrant, pleading a faulty memory or sparring with prosecutors over diction. Vivian Wang, New York Times, "In Skelos Retrial, It’s His Word Against Theirs," 9 July 2018 If something is amiss, Trump will take responsibility only as far as packaging it in a tweet and aiming it directly at one of his adversaries, whether that be President Obama or recalcitrant congressional Republicans. Alexander Nazaryan,, "David L. Bahnsen takes on the blame game in 'Crisis of Responsibility'," 4 May 2018 Its folding fabric top operation loses the recalcitrant zippers, meaning that owners will actually lower it. Tom Voelk, New York Times, "26 Vehicles Played in the Mud. Here’s the Dirt.," 12 July 2018 The quiet, recalcitrant man made the rounds, offering lingering embraces and vigorously shaking his fists, while in the distance thousands of blue-and white-clad fans bellowed their approval. Bruce Jenkins,, "Lionel Messi lives, and Argentina moves on," 26 June 2018 After a series of further disputes, Netanyahu pushed out his recalcitrant minister in May 2016. Matthew Campbell,, "Benjamin Netanyahu Could Be Heading for a Fifth Term. Or to Court," 14 June 2018 The lawsuit offers plenty of ammunition for people who hold this view—even as many other people will look at the same set of facts and conclude that Google justifiably fired a couple of recalcitrant troublemakers. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Google fired James Damore for a controversial gender memo—now he’s suing," 9 Jan. 2018 Trump issued an executive order aimed at withholding federal money from recalcitrant jurisdictions. NBC News, "Sanctuary cities could get boost from Supreme Court's sports betting ruling," 15 May 2018

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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Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

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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

: stubbornly refusing to obey rules or orders


re·​cal·​ci·​trant | \ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt \

Medical Definition of recalcitrant 

: not responsive to treatment severe recalcitrant psoriasis recalcitrant warts

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