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I read about somebody who was sentenced and put in prison for a very long time for a petty crime. I think the word began with a p...

The word means punishing somebody in a completely disproportionate manner.

For example, Matthew stole a candy bar from a 7-Eleven and got put in jail for 17 years.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    ᴍᴏᴅᴇʀᴀᴛᴏʀ ɴᴏᴛᴇ: Answers go in the answer-box, not in the comment box. – tchrist Jan 8 '17 at 2:08
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    @tchrist, I've seen people bashed for posting answers that aren't practically perfect. I know that that's why I don't post an answer before commenting it tentatively first, and waiting for the OP to approve it. It may not be what's stated in the rules, but I suspect that for many users, it's necessary to protect themselves from this oft-cruel site. – vpn Jan 8 '17 at 4:38
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    @vanderpn if you think this site is hard on people, just try StackOverflow and see how good you have it here. – errantlinguist Jan 8 '17 at 9:52
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    Is it possible that the word you remember is punitive? That word by itself simply means "concerned with punishment" but you may have its meaning confused. Punitive action may be considered severe when no punishment is expected in the first place. But it has know meaning within the spectrum of the degree of punishment. – Canis Lupus Jan 9 '17 at 19:57

11 Answers 11

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Draconian

https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/Draconian

Draconian Use the word Draconian (or lowercase draconian) to describe laws or rules that are really harsh and repressive.

In ancient Athens, Draco was a guy who made some seriously strict laws. So rules that are too restrictive — or just plain unfair — are called Draconian. Sentencing someone to 10 years in prison for littering would be Draconian. Some people think Singapore's chewing gum ban is Draconian.

This is a strong word, so if your parents make you do chores, they aren't being Draconian. But if they make you do chores for five hours every day, that's another story.

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    Whether Draconian is capitalized seems to be a matter of style; I usually don't see it capitalized in the US. – chrylis Jan 9 '17 at 3:19
  • yeah i wouldn't capitalize it. I just cut and paste that. – Tom22 Jan 9 '17 at 3:21
25

The word you are seeking is disproportionate.

OD:

disproportionate: too large or too small in comparison with something else: ‘people on lower incomes spend a disproportionate amount of their income on fuel’ ‘persistent offenders were given sentences that were disproportionate to the offences they had committed’

Your example, "Matthew stole a candy bar from a 7-Eleven and got put in jail for 17 years," exemplifies a disproportionate punishment ... and the concept of disproportionality.

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    @dacsaunders For the record, the original title question called for an alternative to inproportional or unproportional, I don't remember which. I object to your changing it, or if you didn't change it, I object to whoever did change it. – Richard Kayser Jan 8 '17 at 21:20
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    I object to ignoring what the question was actually looking for, which was not just the correct form of "unproportional". This was clear from before the edit, which you can easily view here or by clicking on the edit timestamp below the post text. – Matthew Read Jan 9 '17 at 1:11
  • @MatthewRead That's not clear at all. I hope you voted every answer down. – Richard Kayser Jan 9 '17 at 1:19
  • Actually, this answer is is fine. It is simply stating that one entirely valid word in normal use in this situation actually is disproportionate. – Andrew Leach Jan 10 '17 at 10:45
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I think the word you are half-remembering is punitive - inflicting or intended to inflict punishment; retributive, punishing (OED).

Note, however, that punitive means 'punishing' and not 'disproportionately punishing'. Even when used in law (as in punitive damages) the sense is that punitive damages compensate the wronged party and also punish (within reasonable bounds of proportionality!) the wrong-doer.

To have the sense sought by the OP you would need to say something like excessively punitive.

Setting aside the OP's request for a word beginning with 'P', draconian seems like the best fit for the sense described.

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Another phrase you might have heard is cruel and unusual punishment. It's a little more than simply disproportionate but it's a related concept and an important term of art in (international) human rights law.

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    Yep, the phrase "cruel and unusual punishment" is most notable for appearing in the US Bill of Rights (and it is purportedly a paraphrasing of a provision in the English Bill of Rights of 1689). It is, alas, rather vaguely defined, but has served as the basis for limiting disproportionate punishment in a number of key legal decisions over the past two centuries. – Hot Licks Jan 8 '17 at 13:42
  • "punishment that is very harsh and too severe for the crime" - Merriam Webster (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/…) – Littletee Jan 9 '17 at 1:36
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Unfitting

"He was given 30 years for stealing an apple? That seems unfitting."

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Inordinate: unusually or disproportionately large.

So instead of:

Matthew stole a candy bar from a 7-Eleven and got put in jail for 17 years.

You could write, Matthew stole a candy bar from a 7-Eleven and was jailed for an inordinate amount of time

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    This doesn't have anything to do with punishment, it's effectively just a synonym for "disproportionate" alone. – Matthew Read Jan 9 '17 at 1:12
  • Then I vote 'cruel and unusual punishment' – Littletee Jan 9 '17 at 1:37
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If you were looking for an adjective, I suppose you could use the word incommensurate, as in 'a punishment that seems incommensurate with the crime committed'.

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Such a severe punishment dished out to deter others from committing the same crime is sometimes called exemplary.

Macmillan:

exemplary ADJECTIVE FORMAL

2 an exemplary punishment is extremely severe, so that other people will be afraid to commit a similar crime

0

In the US there are maximum sentencing guidelines so

throw the book at

throw the book at someone

To impose a severe punishment, esp to assign a maximum sentence to a criminal; treat mercilessly : If he catches you one more time he'll throw the book at you

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Persecution

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/persecution#English http://www.dictionary.com/browse/persecute

They say the same thing. It's used mainly for being punished for belonging to a disliked group, or for a campaign to punish or hold back a disliked group.

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Perhaps profuse: (especially of something offered or discharged) exuberantly plentiful; abundant.

I offered my profuse apologies.

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    This doesn't have anything to do with punishment, and even "profuse punishment" is pretty bizarre. – Matthew Read Jan 9 '17 at 1:13

protected by MetaEd Jan 13 '17 at 21:23

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