wanton

1 of 3

adjective

1
a
: 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
3
a
: lewd, bawdy
b
: causing sexual excitement : lustful, sensual
4
a
: playfully mean or cruel : mischievous
b
archaic : hard to control : undisciplined, unruly
wantonly adverb
wantonness noun

wanton

2 of 3

noun

1
a
: 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

wanton

3 of 3

verb

wantoned; wantoning; wantons

intransitive verb

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

transitive verb

: to pass or waste wantonly or in wantonness
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
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Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Gold represented most everything frivolous, wanton, and destructive. Christopher Ketcham, Harper's Magazine, 1 Nov. 2023 All of her sisters make their mark; Myers, especially, does a wonderful job as Anna, who is handsome, wanton, fiery, and fatally drawn to the bottle. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 19 Oct. 2023 The result turns out to be similar in its weaknesses and less pronounced in its strengths, yielding a stark, even bleak, look at the wanton murder of Native Americans to obtain their oil money a century ago, while local authorities turned a blind eye. Brian Lowry, CNN, 19 Oct. 2023 In the capital region, the last punishing winter came only months after Russian forces’ occupation early in the war of several bedroom communities close to Kyiv, including Bucha, whose name became synonymous with wanton killings and torture of civilians. Laura King, Los Angeles Times, 3 Oct. 2023 This has been another summer of excess for the majority of the teams in the Premier League, where the scale of the spending has at times bordered on the irrational, almost wanton. Rory Smith, New York Times, 11 Aug. 2023 Finally, be sure to pay attention to wanton waste laws. Alex Robinson, Outdoor Life, 3 June 2020 And a country blighted by wanton disorder over the past decade braces for more of the same. Time, 26 July 2023 Nobody needs to get rid of their preferred tool of wanton destruction. Lucas Daprile, cleveland, 24 July 2023
Noun
Their wanton deconstruction to obtain the stone for other purposes using the power of fossil fuels (gasoline and diesel fuel for machines) was something Robert Frost didn’t see coming. Robert Thorson, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 Nov. 2023 Mark Kelly President Biden on Tuesday showed appropriate outrage at the wanton slaughter by Hamas this weekend, and his pledge of support for Israel is welcome. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 11 Oct. 2023 The wanton, grungy abandon with which these two are hugging! Emma Specter, Vogue, 15 Dec. 2023 Last year, Hankison was acquitted by a Kentucky jury on charges of wanton endangerment. Minyvonne Burke, NBC News, 13 Dec. 2023 His comments coincided with similar statements made by Vice President Kamala Harris in Dubai and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, who warned that the wanton killing of civilians only feeds militant groups. Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, 9 Dec. 2023 Hankison, however, faced three counts of wanton endangerment for allegedly firing 10 bullets into Taylor's apartment. Ingrid Vasquez, Peoplemag, 17 Nov. 2023 Hankison was acquitted of multiple wanton endangerment charges in a state trial last year. Tesfaye Negussie, ABC News, 16 Nov. 2023 To Kuznetsov, Babi Yar was a symbol of wanton savagery committed by two murderous regimes. Anatoly Kuznetsov, Foreign Affairs, 22 Aug. 2023
Verb
In particular, our incredibly stubborn, often gullible, wanton spender of a mother. Alex Zaragoza, Los Angeles Times, 12 Jan. 2024 The federal charges against Hankison were brought three months after a jury acquitted him of state wanton endangerment charges. Cara Tabachnick, CBS News, 16 Nov. 2023 The problem with the plan was fratricide, among other wanton cellular murders. Jason Mast, STAT, 31 Aug. 2023 But the humanitarian issues in Gaza that are the direct result of years of Hamas governance and wanton disregard for human life should not be addressed at the expense of the security of Israeli civilians, who will never rest safely as long as Hamas still exists. The Editors, National Review, 30 Oct. 2023 Those counts include complicity to murder, wanton endangerment and tampering with evidence. Quinlan Bentley, The Enquirer, 7 Sep. 2023 Working as a lab tech with a master’s in chemistry, she’s dismissed by the White men running the place, having had her academic career derailed before that by even more wanton sexism at the university. Brian Lowry, CNN, 13 Oct. 2023 The driver was also cited for speeding, willful wanton disregard for safety, drug abuse, possession of drug paraphernalia and open container. John Benson, cleveland, 12 Sep. 2023 May was arrested on one count of kidnapping, intimidating a participant in the legal process, wanton endangerment, assault, terroristic threatening and harassment, NBC affiliate WAVE of Louisville reported. Matthew Mata, NBC News, 23 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'wanton.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective

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

Noun

derivative of wanton entry 1

Verb

derivative of wanton entry 1

First Known Use

Adjective

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

Noun

1509, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Verb

1582, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

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

Dictionary Entries Near wanton

Cite this Entry

“Wanton.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wanton. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

wanton

adjective
wan·​ton
ˈwȯnt-ᵊn,
ˈwänt-
1
: frisky, playful
a wanton kitten
2
3
a
: merciless, inhumane
wanton cruelty
b
: being without just cause : malicious
a wanton attack
4
: unrestrained sense 1, extravagant
a life of wanton luxury
wantonly adverb
wantonness
-ᵊn-nəs
noun

Legal Definition

wanton

adjective
: 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.

wantonly adverb
wantonness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on wanton

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