de·​bauch·​ery | \ di-ˈbȯ-chə-rē How to pronounce debauchery (audio) , -chrē, -ˈbä- \
plural debaucheries

Definition of debauchery

1 : extreme indulgence in bodily pleasures and especially sexual pleasures : behavior involving sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. that is often considered immoral … he was glad when others joined them, men and women; and they had more drink and spent the night in wild rioting and debauchery.— Upton Sinclair … Matthew had continued his debaucheries, having chartered a private plane for himself and a bunch of fringe celebrities to go to Corfu for a week of hard-core partying.— Evgenia Peretz
2 archaic : seduction from virtue or duty

History and Use of Debauchery

Some people come to find debauchery through the Bible, in a manner of speaking.

In a number of modern versions the word may be found in Ephesians 5:18, as in The New International Version's translation: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit....” The Greek word that is translated here as debauchery may be interpreted in many different ways: the King James Version uses excess, whereas the American Standard Version uses riot.

Debauchery always involves behavior—especially sexual behavior or behavior involving alcohol or drugs—that some find morally objectionable. In biblical and spiritual contexts, the word debauchery is deadly serious, but in other situations the word often has a playful connotation, as when a group of friends goes out for a "night of debauchery."

Debauchery began to be used in English in the beginning of the 17th century, and is formed from the earlier word debauch. As a verb debauch initially had the meaning of "to lead astray," especially when referring to leading someone away from another person to whom he or she has an allegiance or duty. In its earliest use as a noun debauch was often used to refer to an instance of eating or drinking too much.

Examples of debauchery in a Sentence

Like St. Augustine carousing his student days away in fourth-century Carthage, [Thomas] Merton had succumbed to such physical and intellectual debaucheries as New York offered a Columbia undergraduate in the 1930's: wine, women and some Communist fellow-traveling. — Mark Silk, New York Times Book Review, 30 Mar. 1986 … they regard all music and everything pleasant as forms of debauchery, and will not confess to any knowledge or practice unless you can convince them that you are as abandoned a profligate as themselves. — Bernard Shaw, letter, 25 Nov. 1948 I have seen a dozen boys stretched on the grass within a circumference of fifty feet, all of them smoking cigarettes and reading dime novels. It was a scene of inspiring debauchery, even to the most craven spectator. — H. L. Mencken, Happy Days, 1940 He later regretted the debauchery of his youth. He recalled the evening's debaucheries with regret.
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Recent Examples on the Web Years of untold riches and debauchery pass until a mix of government pressure and executive infighting drags the company into the thick of crisis. Nicholas Quah, Vulture, 23 Dec. 2021 Olson auditioned and won the part, which was then reworked to match the debauchery of the male characters. New York Times, 26 Nov. 2021 Meanwhile, Aspen’s famed après ski haunts, like Cloud Nine and the Little Nell, start up with their spirited (and in the case of the former, champagne spraying) debauchery. Elise Taylor, Vogue, 26 Nov. 2021 After the breakup comes debauchery, and then, finally, the possibility of reconciliation. Sheldon Pearce, The New Yorker, 17 Nov. 2021 But for his latest project — This is the Night — the filmmaker decided to tap into a different kind of anarchy: the carefree debauchery of growing up. Josh Weiss, Forbes, 20 Sep. 2021 The night before his crucial med-school interview, a college student and his two best friends celebrate his 21st birthday with a night of drunkenness and debauchery. Ed Stockly, Los Angeles Times, 12 Mar. 2021 Fendig, who runs a boating tour and a trolley business, has seen the spectacle of debauchery firsthand, having used his trolley to take students from the beach back to their lodgings. Bill Rankin, ajc, 23 Sep. 2021 After Crowley moves on to more Cabaret-era debauchery, Pessoa is left feeling more at peace about his celibacy and freer than ever to indulge in his occult investigations and spiritualist theories. Damion Searls, The New Republic, 14 Sep. 2021

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

1642, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for debauchery

see debauch entry 1

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The first known use of debauchery was in 1642

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Last Updated

24 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Debauchery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jan. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on debauchery

Nglish: Translation of debauchery for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of debauchery for Arabic Speakers


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