Origin of wanton

1250–1300; Middle English wantowen literally, undisciplined, ill-reared, Old English wan- not + togen past participle of tēon to discipline, rear, cognate with German ziehen, Latin dūcere to lead; akin to tow1
Related formswan·ton·ly, adverbwan·ton·ness, nounun·wan·ton, adjective
Can be confusedwanton won ton

Synonyms for wanton

Antonyms for wanton

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for wanton

Contemporary Examples of wanton

Historical Examples of wanton

  • How could I have imagined that a young noble would be grateful, or a wanton true?

  • This language is wanton cruelty,—it is fiendish insult,—is it not, Evelyn?

  • But I wad sing on wanton wing, When youthfu' May its bloom renew'd.

  • Wherefore a man ought not to play the wanton, but should learn in season.

    Albert Durer

    T. Sturge Moore

  • Faithful had been assailed by 'Wanton,' and had been obliged to fly from her.


    James Anthony Froude

British Dictionary definitions for wanton



dissolute, licentious, or immoral
without motive, provocation, or justificationwanton destruction
maliciously and unnecessarily cruel or destructive
unrestrainedwanton spending
archaic, or poetic playful or capricious
archaic (of vegetation, etc) luxuriant or superabundant


a licentious person, esp a woman
a playful or capricious person


(intr) to behave in a wanton manner
(tr) to squander or waste
Derived Formswantonly, adverbwantonness, noun

Word Origin for wanton

C13 wantowen (in the obsolete sense: unmanageable, unruly): from wan- (prefix equivalent to un- 1; related to Old English wanian to wane) + -towen, from Old English togen brought up, from tēon to bring up
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

Word Origin and History for wanton

c.1300, wan-towen, "resistant to control; willful," from Middle English privative prefix wan- "wanting, lacking" (from Old English wan "wanting;" see wane) + togen, past participle of teon "to train, discipline;" literally "to pull, draw," from Proto-Germanic *teuhan (cf. Old High German ziohan "to pull;" see tug). The basic notion perhaps is "ill-bred, poorly brought up;" cf. German ungezogen "ill-bred, rude, haughty," literally "unpulled."

As Flies to wanton Boyes are we to th' Gods, They kill vs for their sport. [Shakespeare, "Lear," 1605]

Especially of sexual indulgence from late 14c. The only English survival of a once-common Germanic negating prefix still active in Dutch (cf. wanbestuur "misgovernment," wanluid "discordant sound"), German (wahn-), etc. Related: Wantonly; wantonness.


"one who is ill-behaved," especially (but not originally) "lascivious, lewd person," c.1400, from wanton (adj.).


1580s, from wanton (n.). Related: Wantoned; wantoning.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper