• (RP, GA) IPA: /ˈtaɪɹənt/

tyrant (plural tyrants)

  1. (historical, Ancient Greece) A usurper; one who gains power and rules extralegally, distinguished from kings elevated by election or succession.
    • circa 1595 William Shakespeare, The third Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Duke of York, III iii 71:
      To proue him Tyrant, this reason may suffice, That Henry liueth still.
    • 1980, Michel Austin & al., Economic and Social History of Ancient Greece, 142:
      The reappearance of tyranny [in the 4th century BC] had many reasons... one of the main causes was the development of antagonism between rich and poor; tyrants came to power exploiting a social and political imbalance within the state.
    • 1996, Roger Boesche, Theories of Tyranny, from Plato to Arendt, 4:
      Ancient Greek tyrannies appeared once more in great numbers with the breakdown of the polis in the period from the fourth to the second centuries [BC]. These later tyrannies tended to rely on a more narrow class base and to use a brutal military rule, and thus writers could use the words tyrant and tyranny, with their modern connotations of evil and cruelty, to describe them accurately.
  2. (obsolete) Any monarch or governor.
    • 1737, William Whiston translating Josephus, History of the Jewish Wars, I xii §2:
      Cassius... set tyrants over all Syria.
  3. A despot; a ruler who governs unjustly, cruelly, or harshly.
    • 1587, Philip Sidney and Arthur Golding, A woorke concerning the trewnesse of the christian religion, translating Philippe De Mornay, XII 196:
      Tyrannes...be but Gods scourges which he will cast into the fyre when he hath done with them.
    • circa 1599 William Shakespeare, The Tragedie of Iulius Cæsar, V iv 5:
      I am the Sonne of Marcus Cato, hoe.
      A Foe to Tyrants, and my Countries Friend.
    • 1888, James Bryce, The American Commonweath, I iv 42:
      They [viz., the Framers of the American Constitution] held England to be the freest and best-governed country in the world, but were resolved to avoid the weak points which had enabled King George III. to play the tyrant, and which rendered English liberty, as they thought, far inferior to that which the constitutions of their own States secured.
  4. (by extension) Any person who abuses the power of position or office to treat others unjustly, cruelly, or harshly.
    • circa 1611 William Shakespeare, The Tempest, II ii 161:
      A plague vpon the Tyrant that I serue
    • 1817, Mary Mitford in Alfred L'Estrange, The life of Mary Russell Mitford (1870), II i 2
      […] a sad tyrant, as my friends the Democrats sometimes are.
  5. (by extension) A villain; a person or thing who uses strength or violence to treat others unjustly, cruelly, or harshly.
    • circa 1507 William Dunbar, Poems, 95:
      That strang vnmercifull tyrand [Death].
    • 1526, Tyndale's Bible, 1 Tim. I 13:
      I was a blasphemar, and a persecuter, and a tyraunt.
    • 1528, Thomas Paynell translating Arnaldus de Villa Nova in Joannes de Mediolano, Regimen Sanitatis Salerni:
      A pike (called the tyranne of fishes).
    • circa 1611 William Shakespeare, The Tragedie of Cymbeline, I i 85:
      O dissembling Curtesie! How fine this Tyrant Can tickle where she wounds?
    • 1847, A. Helps, Friends in Council, I viii 132:
      Public opinion, the greatest tyrant of these times.
  6. The tyrant bird, members of the family Tyrannidae, which often fight or drive off other birds which approach their nests.
    • 1731, Mark Catesby, The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, I 55:
      The Tyrant... The courage of this little Bird is singular.
    • circa 1841 Swainson, Penny Cyclopaedia, XXI 415 2:
      The lesser tyrants (Tyrannulae) are spread over the whole of America, where they represent the true flycatcher... The tyrants are bold and quarrelsome birds, particularly during the season of incubation.
    • 1895, Alfred Newton, A Dictionary of Birds:
      Tyrant or Tyrant-bird, Catesby applied it solely to...the King-bird..., but apparently as much in reference to its bright crown...as to its tyrannical behaviour to other birds.
Synonyms Related terms Translations Translations Translations Adjective
  1. (uncommon) Tyrannical, tyrannous; like, characteristic of, or in the manner of a tyrant.
    • circa 1530 John Rastell, Pastyme of People
      He was most tirant & cruell of all emperours.
    • circa 1600 William Shakespeare, As you Like it, I ii 278:
      Thus must I from the smoake into the smother,
      From tyrant Duke, vnto a tyrant Brother.
    • 1775, Abigail Adams, letter in Familiar Letters of John Adams and his wife Abigail Adams, during the Revolution (1876), 124:
      ...a reconciliation between our no longer parent state, but tyrant state, and these colonies.

tyrant (tyrants, present participle tyranting; past and past participle tyranted)

  1. (intransitive, obsolete) To act like a tyrant; to be tyrannical.
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To tyrannize.

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