A police officer pulls over a driver whose vehicle has gone past the speed limit.

The driver explains -- sweating and grimacing -- that he is racing to the hospital to be treated for an unbearable sudden pain.

But the officer writes the driver a speeding ticket anyway. After all, the driver has broken the law, and his pain is another matter entirely.

In the scenario above, the officer has ignored the context around the driver's misdemeanor. Instead, he has acted _____.

Later that night, facing an astronomical medical bill, and a hefty fine for his traffic violation, the driver laments the _____ nature of the law.

I'm looking for a word that could fill in those two blanks. That is, a word that describes a thing done, an action taken, or a decision made without being shaped by its context.

  • 2
    You'll struggle. One needs to be an adverb, the other an adjective. And if you find an intercategorial polyseme that works in both frames, someone will argue it's two different words. Jan 14 '14 at 22:42
  • @EdwinAshworth: I think you’re interpreting OP’s question over-literally. Most adjectives have an adverbial form; a pair like callously and callous would pretty clearly fit OP’s bill.
    – PLL
    Jan 14 '14 at 22:45
  • @PLL I think we should expect rather more precision in questions on this site. Jan 14 '14 at 22:49
  • For the adverb, 'legalistically' fits. So does 'uncompromisingly'. For the second sentence, the sense required is different. 'Legalistic' refers to an attitude to how the law should be interpreted and applied; it is not the law itself that has this attitude. 'Uncompromising' might be used to modify 'nature of the law' though, by semantic broadening. Jan 14 '14 at 23:22

Most words appropriate to OP's first context tend to be pejoratives attaching to the way the officer interprets/enforces the law, rather than directly describing the law itself (OP's second context).

One word that seems suitable for both contexts (with suffix -ly for the adverbial form) is...

uncompromising - unwilling to grant concessions or negotiate; inflexible

...which also has the advantage (assuming it's a desirable attribute from OP's perspective) of not being an inherently negative term (it can be neutral or positive, depending on context).

  • Speed-merchant. Jan 14 '14 at 23:25
  • @Edwin: I haven't heard speed-merchant in a coon's age! Both of which were common idioms in my youth, but I think for the former we were more reviving an already dated Briticism, and for the latter we were just latching on to an Americanism that's now gone out of favour because of perceived racist overtones. Jan 14 '14 at 23:47

A mild term might be indifferent

having no particular interest or sympathy; unconcerned

A stronger reaction would be callous

showing or having an insensitive and cruel disregard for others:


The officer instead has acted heartlessly.

The driver laments the heartless nature of the law.

Heartless adj. Devoid of compassion or feeling; pitiless


When I just read the question heading, I thought of the word(s) indiscriminantly/indiscriminant, which isn't perfect for the example shown, but would work well more generally.

  • This should be "indiscriminately" and "indiscriminate."
    – pandubear
    Jan 15 '14 at 6:46

It only fits the first blank but I think the officer acted by-the-book. And it is an idiom rather that a single word but it does a good job of conveying the total flavor of the OP example use.

by the book, according to the correct or established form; in the usual manner: an unimaginative individual who does everything by the book.

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