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Borrowed from Latin nūgātōrius.


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  • IPA(key): /ˈn(j)uːɡətɔɹi/



nugatory (comparative more nugatory, superlative most nugatory)

  1. Trivial, trifling or of little importance.
    • 1858, Thomas Carlyle, chapter I, in History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great, volume I, London: Chapman and Hall, [], →OCLC:
      In sorrow and disgust, you wander over those multitudinous Books: you dwell in endless regions of the superficial, of the nugatory: to your bewildered sense it is as if no insight into the real heart of Friedrich and his affairs were anywhere to be had.
    • 1872, Benjamin Disraeli, Suez Canal Speech:
      I might refer to the general conviction and the common sense of society that such an investment cannot be treated as absolutely idle and nugatory.
  2. Ineffective, invalid or futile.
    • 1792, George Washington, Fourth State of the Union Address:
      I can not dismiss the subject of Indian affairs without again recommending to your consideration the expediency of more adequate provision for giving energy to the laws throughout our interior frontier and for restraining the commission of outrages upon the Indians, without which all pacific plans must prove nugatory.
    • 1838 (date written), L[etitia] E[lizabeth] L[andon], chapter XVI, in Lady Anne Granard; or, Keeping up Appearances. [], volume I, London: Henry Colburn, [], published 1842, →OCLC, page 204:
      Even among the most experienced and discriminating of men, she rarely allowed the élite of the high-born or distinguished to escape her temporary allurements, so that she was the absolute horror, alike of the designing, whose baits she rendered nugatory, and the innocent attached ones, whose expectations she blighted, and whose young hearts were lacerated by the perfidy of those whom she misled.
    • 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne, chapter XXIV, in The Scarlet Letter, a Romance, Boston, Mass.: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, →OCLC:
      According to these highly-respectable witnesses, the minister, conscious that he was dying [] had desired, by yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen woman, to express to the world how utterly nugatory is the choicest of man’s own righteousness.
    • 2017 September 7, Ferdinand Mount, “Umbrageousness”, in London Review of Books[1]:
      Bartolomé de las Casas’s critique of the cruelty of the Conquistadors led to his official appointment as ‘Protector of the Indians’ and to the passage of the New Laws which gave the Indians some nugatory protection.
    • 2022 April 21, Polly Toynbee, “People are struggling to pay their energy bills – here’s a simple idea that could help”, in The Guardian[2]:
      The government’s response has been nugatory, its mean mitigations mostly in loans that only stoke future problems for households: high energy prices are not set to be a brief spike.
  3. (law) Having no force, inoperative, ineffectual.
    • 1788, Edward Gibbon, chapter LXX, in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, volume VI, London: [] W[illiam] Strahan; and T[homas] Cadell, [], →OCLC:
      But these regulations would have been impotent and nugatory, had not the licentious nobles been awed by the sword of the civil power.
    • 1819, Chief Justice John Marshall, McCulloch v. Maryland (17 U.S. 316)
      The word "necessary" is considered as controlling the whole sentence, and as limiting the right to pass laws for the execution of the granted powers to such as are indispensable, and without which the power would be nugatory.
    • 1905, William Gardner, chapter IV, in The Life of Stephen A. Douglas[3]:
      He protested against the Fugitive Slave Law as necessarily nugatory and utterly impossible of execution because unanimously condemned by the public sentiment of the North.
  4. (computing) Removable from a computer program with safety, but harmless if retained.