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Etymology 1[edit]

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.
    • c. 1603–1606, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of King Lear”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene i]:
      As Flies to wanton Boyes are we to th' Gods, / They kill us for their sport.
    • 1785, William Cowper, “Book III. The Garden.”, in The Task, a Poem, [], London: [] J[oseph] Johnson;  [], →OCLC, page 133:
      'Tis the cruel gripe, / That lean hard-handed poverty inflicts, / The hope of better things, the chance to win, / The wiſh to ſhine, the thirſt to be amus'd, / That at the found of Winter's hoary wing, / Unpeople all our counties, of ſuch herds, / Of flutt'ring, loit'ring, cringing, begging, looſe, / And wanton vagrants, as make London, vaſt / And boundless as it is, a crowded coop.
  2. (obsolete) Playful, sportive; merry or carefree.
    • 1776, Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, volume 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, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volumes (please specify |volume=I to VI), London: A[ndrew] Millar, [], →OCLC:
      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. [], volumes (please specify |volume=I or II), London: Smith, Elder & Co., [], →OCLC:
      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 [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to III), London: [] C[harles] Roworth, [], and published by T[homas] Egerton, [], →OCLC:
      Edward himself, now thoroughly enlightened on her character, had no scruple in believing her capable of the utmost meanness of wanton ill-nature.
    • 2009 August 10, Ben White, The Guardian:
      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 January 19, John Ruskin, Letters:
      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. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


wanton (plural wantons)

  1. A pampered or coddled person.
    • c. 1591–1595 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Romeo and Ivliet”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, (please specify the act number in uppercase Roman numerals, and the scene number in lowercase Roman numerals):
      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.
    • c. 1599–1602 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene ii], page 281, column 2:
      you but dally, / I pray you passe with your best violence, / I am afeard you make a wanton of me.
    • 1611, Ben Jonson, Oberon, the Faery Prince:
      Peace, my wantons; he will do / More than you can aim unto.
    • 1898, George Gissing, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study:
      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, Mrs. Oliphant, Jerusalem: Its History and Hope:
      ...paints with tremendous force the adulteries of the two wantons Aholah and Aholibah, Israel and Judah, and their love of strangers...
    • 1936, Anthony Bertram, Like the Phoenix:
      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.
Derived terms[edit]


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.
    • c. 1590–1592 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Taming of the Shrew”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act PROLOGUE, (please specify the scene number in lowercase Roman numerals)]:
      [] We will fetch thee straight
      Adonis painted by a running brook,
      And Cytherea all in sedges hid,
      Which seem to move and wanton with her breath
      Even as the waving sedges play wi’ th’ wind.
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book V”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], →OCLC; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC, lines 294-296:
      [] Nature here
      Wantond as in her prime, and plaid at will
      Her Virgin Fancies []
    • c. 1820, Charles Lamb, “Christ’s Hospital, Five and Thirty Years Ago”, in Essays of Elia[1], Paris: Baudry’s European Library, published 1835, page 15:
      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.
    • 1927, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse[2], London: Hogarth Press, published 1930, Part 2, 9, p. 217:
      It might well be, said Mrs. McNab, wantoning on with her memories []
  2. (transitive) To waste or squander, especially in pleasure (most often with away).
    The young man wantoned away his inheritance.
    • 1660, Samuel Pepys, diary entry for 28 April, 1660, in Henry B. Wheatley (ed.), The Diary of Samuel Pepys, London: George Bell, 1905, Volume 8, p.290,[3]
      [] with this money the King shall wanton away his time in pleasures []
    • 1881, Christina Rossetti, “St. Matthias, Apostle”, in Called to Be Saints[4], London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, page 153:
      [] Samson, having wantoned away his strength and paying the penalty []
    • 1929, “A Song of an Old General”, in Witter Bynner, Jiang Kanghu, transl., The Jade Mountain[5], New York: Vintage, published 1972, page 203:
      And never would he wanton his cause away with wine.
    • 1948, Digby George Gerahty (as Robert Standish), Elephant Walk, New York: Macmillan, 1949, Chapter 15, p. 214,[6]
      If either of us felt the respect for George that you imply by your manner, you know perfectly well that we wouldn’t have wantoned away the day as we have.
  3. (intransitive) To act wantonly; to be lewd or lascivious.
    • 1677, Hannah Woolley, The Compleat Servant-Maid[7], London: T. Passinger, page 62:
      Be loving and courteous to your fellow Servants, not gigling or idling out your time, or wantoning in the society of men []
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volumes (please specify |volume=I to VI), London: A[ndrew] Millar, [], →OCLC:
      [] whole herds or flocks of other women securely, and scarce regarded, traverse the park, the play, the opera, and the assembly; and though, for the most part at least, they are at last devoured, yet for a long time do they wanton in liberty, without disturbance or controul.
Related terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

Borrowed from Cantonese 雲吞云吞 (wan4 tan1).


wanton (uncountable)

  1. (Philippines, Singapore) wonton (Chinese dumplings)