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

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 See More
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, 1 May 2020 Now Senate Republicans have given Trump a pass on another wanton abuse of power. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 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, 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, 28 Apr. 2020 Sullivan is charged with burglary, kidnapping and wanton endangerment. Chris Mayhew, Cincinnati.com, 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, 27 Apr. 2020 Some believe the wanton slaughter produced the unsanitary conditions that triggered the plague. Los Angeles Times, 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, 2 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Hankison faced three state-level charges of felony wanton endangerment but was acquitted on all three in March. Sonia Moghe, CNN, 4 Aug. 2022 He's charged with assault, rioting and wanton endangerment, court records show. Quinlan Bentley, The Enquirer, 2 Sep. 2022 In March, a jury acquitted Hankison on a charge of wanton endangerment. Reuters, NBC News, 23 Aug. 2022 He was charged and acquitted of wanton endangerment in Jefferson Circuit Court but is charged now in federal court with violating the civil rights of Taylor, Walker and two adults and a child in the other apartment. Andrew Wolfson, The Courier-Journal, 23 Aug. 2022 He was charged and acquitted of wanton endangerment in Jefferson Circuit Court, but is charged now in federal court with violating the civil rights of Taylor, Walker and two adults and a child in the other apartment. Andrew Wolfson, USA TODAY, 23 Aug. 2022 Widespread protests in the name of Jayland Walker, the 25-year-old who was fatally shot by Akron, Ohio police, have found many descending on the Summit County city to call out authorities for such wanton will of destruction. Kevin L. Clark, Essence, 15 July 2022 The appeal hearing was set aside until criminal proceedings for three charges of wanton endangerment against him were concluded. Krista Johnson, The Courier-Journal, 5 Aug. 2022 He was acquitted in March of three state charges of wanton endangerment for firing those shots without a clear target. Marisa Iati, BostonGlobe.com, 4 Aug. 2022 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, 7 Jan. 2020 See More

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.

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


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


derivative of wanton entry 1


derivative of wanton entry 1

Learn More About wanton

Time Traveler for wanton

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near wanton

want no part of/in


want out of

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Statistics for wanton

Cite this Entry

“Wanton.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wanton. Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

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More Definitions for wanton


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

More from Merriam-Webster on wanton

Nglish: Translation of wanton for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wanton for Arabic Speakers


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