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From Middle English wantoun, wantowen, wantoȝen, wantowe (uneducated; unrestrained; licentious; sportive; playful), from wan- (not", "un-", "mis-) + towen, i-towen (educated, literally towed; led; drawn), from Old English togen, ġetogen, past participle of tēon (to train, discipline), equivalent to wan- +‎ towed.



wanton (comparative wantoner, superlative wantonest)

  1. (archaic) Undisciplined, unruly; not able to be controlled.
  2. (obsolete) Playful, sportive; merry or carefree.
    • 1776, Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1:
      The grave simplicity of the philosopher was ill calculated to engage her wanton levity, or to fix that unbounded passion for variety, which often discovered personal merit in the meanest of mankind.
  3. Lewd, immoral; sexually open, unchaste.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, Tom Jones:
      if wenches will hang out lures for fellows, it is no matter what they suffer: I detest such creatures; and it would be much better for them that their faces had been seamed with the smallpox: but I must confess I never saw any of this wanton behaviour in poor Jenny [...].
    • 1874, Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd:
      I know I ought never to have dreamt of sending that valentine—forgive me, sir—it was a wanton thing which no woman with any self-respect should have done.
    • 1946, Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, I.21:
      People should not marry too young, because, if they do, the children will be weak and female, the wives will become wanton, and the husbands stunted in their growth.
  4. Capricious, reckless of morality, justice etc.; acting without regard for the law or the well-being of others; gratuitous.
    • 1811, Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility:
      Edward himself, now thoroughly enlightened on her character, had no scruple in believing her capable of the utmost meanness of wanton ill-nature.
    • 2009, Ben White, The Guardian, 10 Aug 2009:
      these developments in Gaza are a consequence of the state of siege that the tiny territory has been under – a society that has been fenced-in, starved, and seen its very fabric torn apart by unemployment and wanton military destruction.
  5. (archaic) Extravagant, unrestrained, excessive.
    • 1776, Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I:
      the market price will rise more or less above the natural price, according as either the greatness of the deficiency, or the wealth and wanton luxury of the competitors, happen to animate more or less the eagerness of the competition.
    • 1876, John Ruskin, Letters, 19 Jan 1876:
      But do not think it argues change of temper since I wrote the Frère review, or a wanton praise of one man and blame of another.


Derived terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


wanton (plural wantons)

  1. A pampered or coddled person.
    • Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
      I would have thee gone — / And yet no farther than a wanton's bird, / That lets it hop a little from her hand, / Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves, / And with a silken thread plucks it back again []
  2. An overly playful person; a trifler.
    • Shakespeare
      I am afeard you make a wanton of me.
    • Ben Jonson
      Peace, my wantons; he will do / More than you can aim unto.
    • 1898: Charles Dickens: A Critical Study by George Gissing
      This quiet remark serves to remind one, among other things that, Dickens was not without his reasons for a spirit of distrust towards religion by law established, as well as towards sundry other forms of religion--the spirit which, especially in his early career, was often misunderstood as hostility to religion in itself, a wanton mocking at sacred things.
  3. A self-indulgent person, fond of excess.
  4. (archaic) A lewd or immoral person, especially a prostitute.
    • 1891: Jerusalem: Its History and Hope by Mrs. Oliphant
      ...paints with tremendous force the adulteries of the two wantons Aholah and Aholibah, Israel and Judah, and their love of strangers...
    • 1936: Like the Phoenix by Anthony Bertram
      However, terrible as it may seem to the tall maiden sisters of J.P.'s in Queen Anne houses with walled vegetable gardens, this courtesan, strumpet, harlot, whore, punk, fille de joie, street-walker, this trollop, this trull, this baggage, this hussy, this drab, skit, rig, quean, mopsy, demirep, demimondaine, this wanton, this fornicatress, this doxy, this concubine, this frail sister, this poor Queenie--did actually solicit me, did actually say 'coming home to-night, dearie' and my soul was not blasted enough to call a policeman.



wanton (third-person singular simple present wantons, present participle wantoning, simple past and past participle wantoned)

  1. (intransitive) To rove and ramble without restraint, rule, or limit; to revel; to play loosely; to frolic.
    • Milton
      Nature here wantoned as in her prime.
    • Lamb
      How merrily we would sally into the fields, and strip under the first warmth of the sun, and wanton like young dace in the streams!
    • 1835, William Gilmore Simms, The Partisan, Harper, Chapter XI, page 139:
      As for her soft brown hair, it was free to wanton in the winds, save where a strip of velvet restrained it around her brows.
  2. (transitive) To waste or squander, especially in pleasure (often with away).
    The young man wantoned away his inheritance.
  3. (intransitive) To act wantonly; to be lewd or lascivious.


Related terms[edit]