You can't call someone a "refuser"... right? So what do you call someone who repeatedly refuses to do something, or certain things, that s/he is asked or required to do?

Note: It's not just that s/he expresses his/her objection, or avoids doing whatever it is s/he's requested to do - s/he outright refuses.

  • 2
    You're quite right that you can't call someone a "refuser". But you can certainly call them a refusenik Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:07
  • Try the following site: wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/recalcitrant.html Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:11
  • Depending on the reason why they refuse it, you could also call them a "conscientious objector": merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conscientious%20objector (the dictionary references military duty specifically, but any activity refused on moral / religious beliefs can be a conscientious objection).
    – Hellion
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:33
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    It depends entirely on the reason for the refusal.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 20:52
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    Comment/meta-answer: the best word depends very much on what the person is refusing to do. If a boss refuses to give permission for fun activities in the workplace, stick-in-the-mud is perfect. If a neighbour repeatedly refuses to turn down the radio, stubborn is better. If an employee refuses to work on a morally questionable project, then refusenik or conscientious/principled objector is most apt. It seems that for this question, there are lots of good more-specific phrases, but no great one-size-fits-all option.
    – PLL
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 23:01

7 Answers 7


The American Heritage Dictionary offers at least an informal sense of refusenik as

  1. Informal A person who refuses to do something.

The great literary exemplar is the title character in Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.”

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    The original meaning of refusenik is a Jew who was refused permission to emigrate, esp. to Israel (in the Soviet Union times). It is from Russian otkaznik [the suffix -nik forms nouns denoting a person (esp. an enthusiast) or thing involved in or associated with a specified thing or quality, often with humorous or pejorative connotations] - OED
    – ermanen
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 20:26
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    @ermanen But would that original meaning be picked up and be misconstrued as a slur by the average person? As someone who hasn't heard the term, I wouldn't know one way or the either. Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 22:37
  • @ermanen You've told me the original meaning of a word, but that doesn't mean the word is still being used for its original meaning. I'm wondering if this is one of those cases where the original meaning has nothing to do with the commonly accepted meaning it has today, (thereby not having a reasonable risk of being misconstrued as a slur) Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 23:03
  • @DoubleDouble: It was used in the original meaning in the Soviet Union times as I mentioned. It might be used today with the original meaning to refer to the past events. I'm not sure if it can be interpreted as a slur today. Maybe you can ask a question about that.
    – ermanen
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 23:18
  • Bartleby never refused. He notoriously said "I would prefer not to".
    – Drew
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 2:30

Could the word you're looking for be a recalcitrant? Per the OED the adjective is defined as:

Having an obstinately uncooperative attitude towards authority or discipline

With the noun being:

A person with a recalcitrant attitude

Granted a recalcitrant often goes beyond refusing to follow directions or perform duties, but what you describe is often the most visible manifestation of a recalcitrant's behaviour.

  • What if I repeatedly refuse requests for me to donate to charity? Would you call me "recalcitrant"? Also, suppose it does have something to do with authority, e.g. suppose I repeatedly refuse requests to stand up when the national anthem is sung; am I recalcitrant then?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 16:55
  • @einpoklum: In the first case no. Charities have no right to EXPECT you to donate to them (especially the ones who use "chuggers" (charity muggers) who try to stop you in the street, but that's a different conversation). It's your option to donate to them or not. In the second case... it's arguable. We had a case in a school recently where some Islamic children refused to be present for the playing of the national anthem during Ramadan because music is forbidden to them in that period. Were they being recalcitrant or just observing their beliefs? Some people thought they were, others not.
    – Alan K
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 18:21
  • @einpoklum (Continued) A more clear cut case would be if an employer gave you a lawful direction and you refused to obey. For example if you were a customer service role and your employer required you to greet every customer with a smile (no singing required) and you refused to; THEN you would be recalcitrant. Or suppose that you keep driving out of the "No Exit" driveway of your local service station. The "no exit" sign doesn't have any legal force, it's just there to make sure that the traffic flows smoothly, but by persistently refusing to follow it you'd be recalcitrant then.
    – Alan K
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 18:25

Consider, stick-in-the-mud

(idiomatic, pejorative) A person unwilling to participate in activities; a curmudgeon or party pooper.

(idiomatic, pejorative) More generally, one who is slow, old-fashioned, or unprogressive; an old fogey. Your Dictionary


The term resister is often used

  1. A person who resists going along with others in a common course of action.

  2. A person who fights against a government.


Resist is defined as

(transitive) to oppose; refuse to accept or comply with

to resist arrest

to resist the introduction of new technology


  • Not to be confused with "resistor", which tries to say no but doesn't really succeed.
    – anon
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:27
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    @QPaysTaxes I don't know watt you are talking about.
    – bib
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 17:26

I would call them "stubborn". It's a general term and includes "refusing to change his mind."

"efusing to change one's mind or course of action despite pressure to do so; unyielding or resolute."

or "obstinate"

"stubbornly adhering to an attitude, opinion, or course of action; obdurate."

or "intractable"

"intractable suggests stubborn resistance to guidance or control" e.g. an intractable child who deliberately does the opposite of whatever he is told.

  • Hmm. I don't find that specific enough. I mean, they might just argue a lot rather than refuse and still be considered stubborn.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 20:52
  • @einpoklum What about "intractable" ?
    – Centaurus
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 21:01
  • I don't know... would you call someone who refuses, say, to do jury duty "intractable"?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 21:11
  • @einpoklum But the OP wants to describe someone who repeatedly refuses to do something, or certain things
    – Centaurus
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 21:19

There are many half-synonyms for preference or disagreement. The closest I can think of:

abstainer, contender, objector

Also consider military vocabulary, where refusing an order is serious.

What connotation and in what context do you want it? You should choose the best based on that. I don't know of any generic, neutral word for "refuser".


It really depends what they are refusing to do and the reasons for their refusal. And the point of view of the person describing them.

For example, if someone refuses to go to war because he has moral objections to war in general, we call him a "conscientious objector". If he refuses to go because he's afraid of getting hurt, we call him a "coward". If he refuses to go because he sympathizes with the enemy, we might even call him a "traitor". Etc.

If a man asks a girl to go on a date and she says no, he might say she is "stuck up". She might call herself "discriminating".

I don't think there's a general, commonly-used word for someone who refuses to do an unspecified thing for an unspecified reason. It depends on the circumstances. A couple of folks here mention "refusenik", I've heard that word but I think it's pretty rarely used, and is most definitely a definition number 2, only marginally related to the primary definition. Definition 1 being Jews who were denied permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union, as @ermanen points out. Note that in the original meaning, a refusenik was not someone who refused to do something, but someone who was denied permission to do something that he wanted to do. Almost the opposite.

  • "Coward" has nothing to do with refusing. I mean, you could go to that war since you're too much of a coward to refuse and face the consequences, or you could shirk military service since you're a coward who's afraid of dying in it. Same with "discriminating" or "stuck up" - that's not about refusing, that's about the girl's attitude. I do agree that "refusenik" sounds too specific a term - but that's really a comment on someone else's answer.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 16:52
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    @einpoklum The point I was trying to make was that, to the best of my knowledge, there is no general word in English for "someone who refuses to do something", where the word would apply no matter what the thing they are refusing to do is and no matter their reasons. I was attempting to be somewhat whimsical in giving examples of what you might call someone who refused to do certain specific things for specific reasons. Yes, none of the words I used are specifically related to refusing in general, they are all reasons for refusing to do a specific thing.
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 19:47

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