wan·​ton | \ ˈwȯn-tᵊn How to pronounce wanton (audio) , ˈwän- How to pronounce wanton (audio) \

Definition of wanton

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : merciless, inhumane wanton cruelty
b : having no just foundation or provocation : malicious a wanton attack
2 : being without check or limitation: such as
a : unduly lavish : extravagant wanton imagination
b : luxuriantly rank wanton vegetation
3a : lewd, bawdy
b : causing sexual excitement : lustful, sensual
4a : playfully mean or cruel : mischievous
b archaic : hard to control : undisciplined, unruly



Definition of wanton (Entry 2 of 3)

1a : one given to self-indulgent flirtation or trifling used especially in the phrase play the wanton
b : a lewd or lascivious person
2 : a pampered person or animal : pet especially : a spoiled child
3 : a frolicsome child or animal


wantoned; wantoning; wantons

Definition of wanton (Entry 3 of 3)

intransitive verb

: to be wanton or act wantonly (see wanton entry 1)

transitive verb

: to pass or waste wantonly or in wantonness

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Other Words from wanton


wantonly adverb
wantonness \ ˈwȯn-​tᵊn-​nəs How to pronounce wantonness (audio) , ˈwän-​ \ noun


wantoner noun

Examples of wanton in a Sentence


No artist should be subjected to this much wanton affection: it's unseemly, like being hugged by a stranger who won't let go. — James Wolcott, New Republic, 30 Aug. 2004 I also wrote that innocent people would die as a consequence of the wanton, lawless destruction of medical stocks in a dirt-poor country. — Christopher Hitchens, Nation, 31 May 1999 While I was happy to find Mr. Pollan firmly allied with those of us who oppose the wanton broadcast of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers on lawn and garden, I wish he had lingered a little longer over this vital subject. — Maxine Kumin, New York Times Book Review, 9 June 1991 Vandals were guilty of the wanton destruction of the school property. They were accused of wanton cruelty toward animals. He showed a wanton disregard for his friend's feelings. a life of wanton luxury


He practiced the anathema he would hurl at her from his pulpit when her shame was known—hussy, slut, harlot and wanton featured heavily … — James A. Michener, Texas, 1985 During the middle years of their marriage … his campaign to free his bride so that she could become a wanton had languished. — Andrew M. Greeley, Ascent into Hell, 1983 My informal education had begun the afternoon in Belleville Park when I discovered that girls were wantons willing to sneak away to shaded glades to be kissed. — Russell Baker, Growing Up, 1982


It might well be, said Mrs McNab, wantoning on with her memories; they had friends in eastern countries; gentlemen staying there, ladies in evening dress; she had seen them once through the dining-room door all sitting at dinner. — Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 1927 … for Nature here / Wantoned as in her prime and played at will / Her virgin fancies, pouring forth more sweet, Wild above rule or art, enormous bliss. — John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

That a lesbian meant a woman who was prone to giving wanton blow jobs? Anyway.com. Anna Pulley, chicagotribune.com, "Ask Anna: Am I old-fashioned for not wanting to use the term queer?," 24 June 2019 After the police arrested him, Chen was charged with kidnapping a minor and three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, according to court records. Paula Rogo, Essence, "Man Attempts To Kidnap Black Child From Kroger," 8 June 2019 Fabao Chen, 58, was charged with kidnapping a minor and three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, according to online court records. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, "Man kidnapped juvenile from Louisville Kroger and pointed gun at crowd, police say," 5 June 2019 Christopher Flannery, 28, was arrested Saturday afternoon and charged with first-degree wanton endangerment and impersonating an officer. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, "A Louisville man impersonated an officer and pointed a gun at victims, police say," 4 June 2019 Each worker was charged with wanton neglect and was required to serve two to four weeks in jail, the Des Moines Register reported. Crimesider Staff, CBS News, "Ex-Iowa facility workers sentenced for abusing residents with disabilities," 27 Feb. 2018 Since the spring of 2014, injury has stalked the Cincinnati Reds like an IRS agent on the trail of a wanton tax evader. Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati.com, "Guest TML: Four things I'm watching for this Cincinnati Reds season," 23 Feb. 2018 In the aftermath of the 1917 revolution, numerous reports in foreign newspapers had suggested wanton vandalism and the loss of a collection reportedly worth $500 million. Stellene Volandes, Town & Country, "Inside the Enduring Mystery of What Happened to Russia's Imperial Jewelry," 1 Nov. 2018 The powerful family has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, of human rights abuses and wanton plunder of national assets, during Marcos' reign, which finally ended in 1989. Fox News, "Sara Netanyahu preceded by avarice of other first wives," 22 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

His rhetoric, his callousness, his wanton lies all make a compromise harder. Andrew Sullivan, Daily Intelligencer, "If We Want to End the Border Crisis, It’s Time to Give Trump His Wall," 22 June 2018 Anzelone was arraigned Wednesday in Milford District Court on charges of open and gross lewdness; lewd, wanton, and lascivious conduct; indecent exposure; and accosting or annoying another person, authorities said. Travis Andersen, BostonGlobe.com, "Milford teacher, 40, allegedly exposed himself to teen Walmart worker in store bathroom," 24 May 2018 The erotic scenes are dialectical as well as hot; the meetings have a wanton, feverish energy. A. O. Scott, New York Times, "Review: ‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’ Captures the Fierce AIDS Fight," 19 Oct. 2017 The extremists have left a trail of wanton, sometimes bizarre, destruction. National Geographic, "Iraq's Unique Wildlife Pushed to Brink by War, Hunting," 6 Feb. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'wanton.' 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 wanton


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4b


1509, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1582, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for wanton

Adjective, Noun, and Verb

Middle English, from wan- deficient, wrong, mis- (from Old English, from wan deficient) + towen, past participle of teen to draw, train, discipline, from Old English tēon — more at tow entry 1

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Statistics for wanton

Last Updated

5 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for wanton

The first known use of wanton was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for wanton



English Language Learners Definition of wanton

: showing no thought or care for the rights, feelings, or safety of others
: not limited or controlled
old-fashioned, of a woman : having sex with many men


wan·​ton | \ ˈwȯn-tᵊn How to pronounce wanton (audio) \

Kids Definition of wanton

1 : not modest or proper : indecent
2 : showing no thought or care for the rights, feelings, or safety of others wanton cruelty

Other Words from wanton

wantonly adverb
wantonness noun


wan·​ton | \ ˈwänt-ᵊn, ˈwȯnt- How to pronounce wanton (audio) \

Legal Definition of wanton

: manifesting extreme indifference to a risk of injury to another that is known or should have been known : characterized by knowledge of and utter disregard for probability of resulting harm a wanton act by such wanton or willful misconduct — see also reckless

Note: Wanton reckless, and willful are often used to refer to an aggravated level of negligence that borders on intent and that is often ground for an award of punitive damages.

Other Words from wanton

wantonly adverb
wantonness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on wanton

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for wanton

Spanish Central: Translation of wanton

Nglish: Translation of wanton for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wanton for Arabic Speakers

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