Definition of nugatory given by the Oxford Dictionary:

Of no value or importance

Short and simple. So it is basically the same as useless, right? If so, then why is there a need to use it? Why don't we just use useless directly? It seems that the existence of the word nugatory is ... nugatory. In my knowledge, there is no a single word that has an exactly meaning or nuance to another word. There must be a niche market of the word to exist.

So what is the niche market for nugatory?

  • 12
    You use nugatory when you're sick and tired of saying inutilious.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 11 '15 at 7:38
  • @DanBron what is inutilious? Google can't find it
    – Ooker
    Oct 11 '15 at 9:03
  • 3
    I love 'inutilious', and will use it :)
    – user66974
    Oct 11 '15 at 9:19
  • 1
    follow up question: Why does the word “nugatory” become nugatory?
    – Ooker
    Oct 11 '15 at 9:28
  • 1
    The niche market for "nugatory" is clearly those instances when you want to impress or confuse your interlocutor. Dec 9 '19 at 11:20

Nugatory is a quite formal word used mainly in Law meaning 'not valid' or formal speech.


  • The clause excluding negroes and Chinese from the suffrage has never been repealed, although it has been rendered nugatory by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.

  • We may be forced to conclude that the interest of the whole affair, so far as authentic history is concerned, is really nugatory and that the romantic imagination has created a mystery in a fact of no importance.


Nugatory , Vocabulary.com also suggests a jocular use of the term in current usage:

  • An adjective meaning “trifling, of no value,” nugatory comes from the Latin nugatorius “worthless, futile,” which in turn came from the also Latin nugatory — “jester, trifle.” It’s a word you probably don’t hear too often, but it’s a fun and descriptive one to use. Describe something with no force or importance as nugatory. "Whether this rug is red or green is nugatory to someone who is colorblind."

Nugatory(adj.) (Etymonline)

  • "trifling, of no value," c. 1600, from Latin nugatorius "worthless, trifling, futile," from nugator "jester, trifler, braggart," from nugatus, past participle of nugari "to trifle, jest, play the fool," from nugæ "jokes, jests, trifles," of unknown origin.
  • Its usage has been decreasing consistently in recent decades as shown in Ngram.

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  • +1 for jocular use. Catullus ironically called his poetry nugae Oct 11 '15 at 10:29

Nugatory doesn't have the 100% same meaning of useless. It is rather closer to trifling as Merriam-Webster defines.

  1. of little or no consequence : trifling, inconsequential

  2. having no force : inoperative

The congressional resolution has symbolic value only, as it relates to a matter governed by the states and is thus nugatory.

The book is entertaining, but its contributions to Shakespearean scholarship are nugatory.

I don't think you can use useless for the second example. There, it means small or trifling, not useless.

Its origin is the Latin word nūgae which means trifles.

  • could the first definition be interpreted as not much?
    – Ooker
    Oct 11 '15 at 9:11
  • @Ooker If it can be used to describe value, why not?
    – user140086
    Oct 11 '15 at 9:25

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