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

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 Read this: Bullitt County man dies after being assaulted, suspect armed and dangerous Partain was arrested and charged with first degree wanton endangerment, first degree domestic violence assault, careless driving and driving under the influence. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "Shelby County man beat and bloodied wife while driving intoxicated, police say," 10 Feb. 2020 For him, that wanton destruction, compounded by Islamic State fighters later taking sledgehammers to irreplaceable ancient statues, crystallized how the long years of dictatorship, war and punishing Western sanctions had unraveled Iraqi society. New York Times, "Mourning Iraq’s Destruction, a Native Son Creates," 31 Dec. 2019 More:Michelle Carter, who encouraged boyfriend to kill himself, denied early release from prison Two state courts ruled that Carter engaged in wanton and reckless conduct. Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, "Supreme Court lets conviction stand of young woman who encouraged friend's suicide," 13 Jan. 2020 Yet if that's a boon to consumers, there's a nagging sense that such wanton abundance and convenience will come with tradeoffs for studios. Brian Lowry, CNN, "As 'Star Wars' disappoints, studios might need to adjust streaming-age expectations," 14 Jan. 2020 John Olash, Campbell's attorney, said Wednesday that Campbell pleaded guilty to two wanton endangerment charges, one terroristic threatening charge and one menacing charge. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "JCPS student arrested outside Valley High with loaded gun pleads guilty to several charges," 8 Jan. 2020 Sleep under the stars on a warm late June night, and take it all in with a side of wanton, prurient sky candy. Heather Arndt Anderson, Sunset Magazine, "Relieve Stress with Visits to These Fragrant Places, from Lavender Farms to Redwood Groves," 7 Jan. 2020 The ban also prohibits the wanton waste of animal hides and carcasses from hunters who knowingly leave dead or wounded animals behind without making a reasonable effort to retrieve them. BostonGlobe.com, "MassWildlife bans predator hunting contests, wanton waste of game - The Boston Globe," 22 Dec. 2019 Pritchett faces charges of first-degree robbery, kidnapping, first-degree wanton endangerment and third-degree terroristic threatening. Terry Demio, Cincinnati.com, "Northern Kentucky man kidnaps mom at gunpoint to get cash, heroin, deputies say," 10 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun That office confirmed that a jury found Chapman not guilty of open and gross lewdness and lewd, wanton, and lascivious acts. Danny Mcdonald, BostonGlobe.com, "Convicted child rapist Wayne Chapman found not guilty of exposing himself to prison staff," 9 Aug. 2019 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 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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Statistics for wanton

Last Updated

15 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Wanton.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wantonness. Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for wanton


How to pronounce wanton (audio) How to pronounce wanton (audio)

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: Wantonreckless, 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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