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.
November 10th, 2015
Episode 376 of 830 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 10, 2015 is: kangaroo court \kang-uh-ROO-KORT\ noun 1 : a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted 2 : a court marked by irresponsible, unauthorized, or irregular status or procedures 3 : judgment or punishment given outside of legal procedure Examples: The press decried the tribunal as nothing more than a kangaroo court, meting out savage and arbitrary justice. "A kangaroo court in Egypt recently sentenced three journalists from the Al Jazeera English network to three years in prison for committing journalism." The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2015 Did you know? A kangaroo court has never been a court by or for kangaroos, but beyond that, little is known for sure about the term's origins. Various theories abound: it has been suggested that kangaroo courts got their name because they were initially marked by rapid and unpredictable movement from one place to another, or that they were in some way associated with "jumping" (i.e., illegally occupying) mining claims. These hypotheses are all unsubstantiated, however. What is known is that the first kangaroo courts originated in the United States at approximately the time of the 1849 California Gold Rush, and the word saw its earliest use in the southwestern U.S. It first turned up in print in 1853 in a book about Texas.