adjective re·cal·ci·trant \ ri-ˈkal-sə-trənt \
|Updated on: 7 Aug 2018

Definition of recalcitrant

1 : obstinately defiant of authority or restraint
2 a : 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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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 KolataNew York Times Book Review7 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 BlauerWine Spectator31 Oct. 1996
  3. 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 EllsworthNew York Times29 May 1994
  4. 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'RourkeRepublican Party Reptile1987
  5. You are not the kind of person who beats on recalcitrant vending machines. —Jay McInerneyBright Lights, Big City1984
  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

Recent Examples of recalcitrant from the Web

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.

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

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


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

: not responsive to treatment
  • severe recalcitrant psoriasis
  • recalcitrant warts

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