Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
August 26th, 2015
Episode 300 of 681 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 26, 2015 is: draconian \dray-KOH-nee-un\ adjective 1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of Draco or the severe code of laws held to have been framed by him 2 : cruel; also : severe Examples: The editorial asserts that a life sentence for any non-violent crime is draconian. "As electronic highway signs implore Californians to 'Save Water' and municipalities impose increasingly draconian conservation measures, we are seeing a phenomenon known as 'drought-shaming'the humiliation of water-wasters among both the rich and famous and more ordinary residents." Henry I. Miller, Forbes.com, 1 July 2015 Did you know? Draconian comes from Draco, the name of a 7th-century B.C.E. Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. Draco's code was intended to clarify existing laws, but its severity is what made it really memorable. In Draco's code, even minor offenses were punishable by death, and failure to pay one's debts could result in slavery. Draconian, as a result, became associated with things cruel or harsh. Something draconian need not always be as cruel as the laws in Draco's code, though; today the word is used in a wide variety of ways and often refers to measures (steep parking fines, for example) that are relatively minor when compared with the death penalty.