peon

1
[ pee-uhn, pee-on ]
/ ˈpi ən, ˈpi ɒn /

noun

(in Spanish America) a farm worker or unskilled laborer; day laborer.
(formerly, especially in Mexico) a person held in servitude to work off debts or other obligations.
any person of low social status, especially one who does work regarded as menial or unskilled; drudge.

Origin of peon

1
1820–30; <Spanish peón peasant, day laborer <Vulgar Latin *pedōn- (stem of *pedō) walker (whence Medieval Latin pedōnēs infantry, Old French peonpawn2), derivative of Latin ped- (stem of pēs) foot

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH peon

paean, paeon, peon .

Definition for peon (2 of 2)

peon2
[ pee-uhn, pee-on ]
/ ˈpi ən, ˈpi ɒn /

noun (in India and Sri Lanka)

a messenger, attendant, or orderly.
a foot soldier or police officer.

Origin of peon

2
1600–10; <Portuguese peão,French pion foot soldier, pedestrian, day laborer. See peon1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does peon mean?

A peon is a person of low social status, especially one who does unskilled work and is poorly treated.

Peon was once used in a more specific way to refer to farmworkers and other unskilled laborers in Mexico and parts of the United States.

Example: People are going to keep quitting if management keeps treating them like peons.

Where does peon come from?

Peon was once more commonly used in India or Sri Lanka to refer to a police officer or an infantry soldier. This word derives from the Portuguese peão, which comes from the French pion, meaning “foot soldier,” “pedestrian,” or “day laborer.” The first records of this sense of peon come from the 1600s.

The sense of the word that was used in parts of North and Central America is first recorded in the 1800s. It comes from the Spanish peón, meaning “peasant” or “day laborer.” The word derives from the Latin root ped-, meaning “foot” (as seen in words like pedal and pedestrian).

Historically, peons worked on their feet. In parts of the U.S., the word referred to farm workers and other low-paid, unskilled laborers. In Mexico, peons were those who were forced to work in low-paying positions to pay off debts. Today, peon is used more generally to refer to poor people or those who perform menial labor—work that is often considered lowly and degrading. The word peon often implies that such a person receives poor treatment or is being exploited. In this sense, low-income workers are sometimes called peons to highlight the poor conditions they often have to work in.

The term is also used to describe anyone who has to do drudgework, such as an intern who’s ordered to fetch coffee for their supervisors. In this usage, it’s often intended to be humorous.

Did you know ... ?

What are some synonyms for peon?

What are some words that share a root or word element with peon

 

What are some words that often get used in discussing peon?

What are some words peon may be commonly confused with?

How is peon used in real life?

Today, peon is most commonly used to refer to a lowly and poorly treated worker. It’s especially used as a criticism not of the worker but of their treatment.

 

 

Try using peon!

Which of the following words is not a synonym of peon?

A. master
B. farmhand
C. servant
D. peasant

Example sentences from the Web for peon

British Dictionary definitions for peon (1 of 2)

peon1
/ (ˈpiːən, ˈpiːɒn) /

noun

a Spanish-American farm labourer or unskilled worker
(formerly in Spanish America) a debtor compelled to work off his debts
any very poor person

Word Origin for peon

C19: from Spanish peón peasant, from Medieval Latin pedō man who goes on foot, from Latin pēs foot; compare Old French paon pawn ²

British Dictionary definitions for peon (2 of 2)

peon2
/ (pjuːn, ˈpiːən, ˈpiːɒn) /

noun (in India, Sri Lanka, etc, esp formerly)

a messenger or attendant, esp in an office
a native policeman
a foot soldier

Word Origin for peon

C17: from Portuguese peão orderly; see peon 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012