I am having the darndest time trying to remember this word/phrase. I have seen it used many times over the years to describe laws, rules, and policies that are usually very heavy handed and backwards thinking.

Laws that don't really understand the issue they are trying to solve and instead take an almost vindictive approach to solving problems.

For the life of me I can't remember and I keep trying to say it is Gregorian. But I know that is not right.

Does anyone know what I am talking about? I have seen it a lot on techdirt.com.

  • 4
    Draconian? This refers to heavy-handedness, not necessarily backwards. He laid down the first written constitution of Athens. Aug 5, 2015 at 0:51
  • A reactionary law, in opposition to a revolutionary law, errs away from current trends to those of the past.
    – Anonym
    Aug 5, 2015 at 2:32
  • 1
    Heavy-handed is... punitive? A fun one for backwards is antediluvian.
    – stevesliva
    Aug 5, 2015 at 3:53
  • I have not seen that word before @stevesilva. Though I made this request for a comment I was leaving to an article. So I would need a word that can be understood by the masses.
    – Patrick
    Aug 5, 2015 at 4:23
  • 1
    Gregorian is usually used in reference to the Calendar. Secondarily, in reference to the "Chants", a type of sacred, unaccompanied and free formed singing. After that, it's in reference to one of the Popes named Gregory and anything that he oversaw, instated, or was Pope during.
    – user39425
    Aug 6, 2015 at 6:53

11 Answers 11


Draconian (pertaining to Draco)

The laws [Draco] laid down were the first written constitution of Athens. So that no one would be unaware of them, they were posted on wooden tablets... thus made known to all literate citizens. Wikipedia

The laws were particularly harsh. The punishment for even minor offenses, e.g. "stealing a cabbage", was death.

One thing we must do is rethink the draconian collection policies that leave vulnerable students with nowhere to turn. - NYT


very strict and cruel


So named for the Greek lawgiver Draco:

Athenian lawgiver whose harsh legal code punished both trivial and serious crimes in Athens with death—hence the continued use of the word draconian to describe repressive legal measures.



While draconian would have been my 1st choice, Puritanical also comes to mind

Puritanical- very strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so; rigidly austere

  • I thought of this one too, but it didn't quite encompass what I was trying to convey.
    – Patrick
    Aug 5, 2015 at 4:21

Maybe not a perfect fit, but "arcane" comes to mind. This is often used to describe very old laws that are never enforced, but remain on the books, and make no sense in current society.

arcane (adj) known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric


If you want to focus more on the "backwards" than the "heavy handed" part of the question, I would recommend using the term "Byzantine". It is often used to refer to layers of bureaucratic red tape and obscure laws.


Although not exactly the word you're looking for another choice is onerous. According to Google NGrams, use of the term "onerous law" has at times been not too far distant from "Draconian law" or "draconian law". Most recently, "draconian" seems to be the winner, with the properly capitalized variant losing ground to it.


1 : involving, imposing, or constituting a burden : troublesome

2 : having legal obligations that outweigh the advantages


As others have suggested, draconian fits if the the laws are heavy handed and authoritarian.

You might also consider archaic

archaic adjective old and no longer useful


This would capture the 'backwards thinking' part of what you're looking for.


Laws forbidding gay marriage are an archaic throwback to when we based our morality on The Bible.

The War on Drugs is an archaic and draconian set of laws created in a time when we had less understanding the nature of addiction and human psychology, and less tolerant attitudes.


"Regressive" - moving things backwards, arguably to a worse state that the current one.


An Afrikaans word has been accepted into English: verkrampte

This word aptly describes the obtuse and unenlightened mentality that accompanies extreme conservatism; cramped and restricted. The opposite, which is now also accepted English is verligte, which means enlightened.

See http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/verkrampte, http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/verkrampte

  • Judging from the linked definitions, verkrampte seem to have been accepted into English only in the very narrow context of views on apartheid in South Africa. I haven't seen either verkrampte or verligte used in U.S. English, and I would be especially concerned that verkrampte might be confused by readers or listeners with [verklempt ](yiddishslangdictionary.com/word/351/verklempt), which is a Yiddish word but I suspect is more common among North American English speakers than either verkrampte or verligte.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 6, 2015 at 6:46

Hammurabic? The Code of Hammurabi was famous, of course, for the first articulation of the lex talionis ("an eye for an eye", etc.).


Unconstitutional comes to mind and was also on the link you posted.
I checked:

The following entry might hold the answer.:

"Main Entry: tyrannical
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: despotic, oppressive
Synonyms: authoritarian, autocratic, brutal, cruel, demanding, dictatorial, domineering, harsh, heavy-handed, ironhanded, mean, overbearing, repressive, ruthless, totalitarian, tough, unjust"

I hope that helps.

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