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 wanton (audio) , ˈwän-​ \ noun


wantoner noun

Examples of wanton in a Sentence

Adjective 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 Noun 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 Verb 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 The man was given a court summons for willful wanton disregard for both safety and private property, leaving the scene of a crash and the red-light violation. Bob Sandrick, cleveland, "Man drives SUV into house in Brook Park," 1 May 2020 Now Senate Republicans have given Trump a pass on another wanton abuse of power. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, "Trump’s Inevitable Acquittal and the Threat to American Democracy," 1 Feb. 2020 Twan Moore, 25, was charged with first degree wanton endangerment, second degree disorderly conduct and one charge of firing a firearm on a public road. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "Three arrested after Louisville Police say they fired guns on public road in downtown," 5 May 2020 Burnett is being charged with wanton endangerment in the first degree, contempt of a court libel/slander resistance to order, and criminal mischief in the second degree. Andrew Mark Miller, Washington Examiner, "Woman with coronavirus arrested at grocery store for violating quarantine order," 28 Apr. 2020 Sullivan is charged with burglary, kidnapping and wanton endangerment. Chris Mayhew, Cincinnati.com, "Independence police exchange gunfire with suspect overnight," 23 Apr. 2020 He's been charged with murder, two counts of first degree wanton endangerment and first degree assault. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "Louisville police: 18-year-old kills person in drug deal gone bad, confesses to his mother," 27 Apr. 2020 Some believe the wanton slaughter produced the unsanitary conditions that triggered the plague. Los Angeles Times, "Commentary: Napoleon has it all over Trump when it comes to spinning plague propaganda," 23 Apr. 2020 Like any migratory gamebird, wanton waste, which means to intentionally waste, neglect, or use inappropriately, comes into play. Brad Fenson, Outdoor Life, "8 Ways to Prepare Snow Goose Meat," 2 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun One officer, Brett Hankison, was indicted on first-degree wanton endangerment for shooting into a neighboring apartment but was not charged for killing Taylor. Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY, "President Biden's promises on policing reform: What the administration has accomplished," 4 May 2021 Hayden has prior felony convictions in 2016 and 2017 as part of carjacking and wanton endangerment cases, per court records. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, "Louisville man arrested in connection with fatal shooting of Christian Gwynn in 2019," 29 Apr. 2021 He's been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment. Nicholas Reimann, Forbes, "Justice Department Launches Investigation Of Louisville Police After Breonna Taylor Death," 26 Apr. 2021 Hankison faces three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for the March 13, 2020, shooting that left Taylor dead on the floor of her South Louisville apartment. Tessa Duvall, The Courier-Journal, "Trial for ex-Louisville cop charged after Breonna Taylor shooting gets pushed back," 23 Apr. 2021 One of the three officers involved in Taylor's death was indicted on first-degree wanton endangerment charges. Christina Maxouris, CNN, "Here's how the families of Black Americans killed by police responded to the Derek Chauvin verdict," 21 Apr. 2021 One of them, Brett Hankison, is facing wanton endangerment charges for putting Taylor’s neighbors in danger. NBC News, "Louisville police chief reprimands officer over Breonna Taylor email," 15 Apr. 2021 One of them, Brett Hankison, is facing wanton endangerment charges for putting Taylor's neighbors in danger. Arkansas Online, "Police chief reprimands officer over Breonna Taylor email," 14 Apr. 2021 Former detective Brett Hankison was indicted in September 2020 on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, while the other two policemen involved were not charged in the incident. Jake Dima, Washington Examiner, "Kentucky enacts limitations on no-knock warrants after Breonna Taylor's death," 9 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb All of the attacks were wanton, aimed at destruction of the cultural and artistic heritage of humanity. David J. Wasserstein, The Conversation, "Trump’s Twitter threat to destroy Iran’s cultural sites is a historic mistake," 7 Jan. 2020

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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Time Traveler for wanton

Time Traveler

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

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Cite this Entry

“Wanton.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wanton. Accessed 18 May. 2021.

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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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