unwritten law


: law based chiefly on custom rather than legislative enactments

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web But the facts of that night were swallowed up by a code of silence, the unwritten law that presumed police officers would shield one another from accountability. New York Times, 19 July 2022 Apparently, the unwritten law also applied to siblings who came along to assist. Greg Daugherty, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 Apr. 2022 Meanwhile, groups like the Ku Klux Klan intimidated and killed black people who challenged the now-unwritten laws of conduct. Erin Blakemore, National Geographic, 5 Feb. 2020 Stoddard notes, disdaining the vagueness of unwritten law based on power. Kyle Smith, National Review, 25 Nov. 2019 It was generally believed that the jury’s final verdict would be based on America’s unwritten law about white women and colored men. Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian, 7 Oct. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unwritten law.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

1641, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of unwritten law was in 1641

Dictionary Entries Near unwritten law

Cite this Entry

“Unwritten law.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unwritten%20law. Accessed 31 Jan. 2023.

Legal Definition

unwritten law

un·​writ·​ten law
: law based chiefly on custom rather than legislative enactments
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?