Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Difficult or impossible to discipline, control, or rule.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. wild; uncontrolled

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Not submissive to rule; disregarding restraint; disposed to violate; turbulent; ungovernable; refractory

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Disposed to resist rule or lawful restraint, or to violate laws laid down; lawless; turbulent; ungovernable; refractory; disorderly; tumultuous: as, an unruly child.
  • Not according to rule; irregularly.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. of persons
  • adj. noisy and lacking in restraint or discipline
  • adj. unwilling to submit to authority

Etymologies

Middle English unreuli : un-, not; see un-1 + reuli, easy to govern (from reule, rule; see rule).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English unruly ("unquiet, restless"), interpreted as un- + rule + -ly (compare Middle English ruly, reuli ("subject to a religious rule, regular")), but also representing a modified continuation of earlier Middle English unrouly, unroly ("unquiet, restless"), equivalent to un- +‎ roolie. The latter is perhaps from or influenced by an Old Norse word related to Danish urolig ("restless"), Swedish orolig ("restless"), Icelandic óróleg ("agitated"). Compare also Middle English unroo, unro ("unrest"). More at roo. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Principal Hector Espinoza has taken the unusual step of canceling the final seven games of the Cougars season after the team had engaged in what he called unruly behavior during competition.

    Fore, right!

  • She looked at his hands, the backs of which were covered in unruly black hair.

    Shortcomings of the Immediate World

  • It acts as a kind of palimpsest over which the literary writer might inscribe his/her own variations on "criminal" behavior and its sources in unruly human impulses.

    What's Going On?

  • It reaches up the poles and strives in unruly tufts down where the trees harbor their gloom.

    Rainy Season « Unknowing

  • Nip off the leaves that are faded, prune in unruly shoots, see if any need re-potting.

    Gardening by Myself

  • As soon as practicable he called the unruly body to order, beat upon the rude desk to enforce attention, and, in the lull that succeeded, briefly defined the purpose of the meeting, ending with introducing the speaker and craving for her their respectful attention.

    Under Ban--A Sketch.

  • I was a young teacher … from age 20 to 25 and "unruly" - having been involved in the first teachers strikes in NYC to get the right to collective bargaining and then for the first contract, in successive years - 2nd strike in

    Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines

  • Perhaps they are even reflected in that little unexpected epithet, "unruly" - suggesting the sun himself had challenged the Roman inquisition.

    The Guardian World News

  • As you can see, the bush vines lie in unruly rows since they aren’t trellised.

    Photo post: Hewitson 1853 Mourvedre – and Orlando (and a kookaburra) | Dr Vino's wine blog

  • While Levi had debated on what to name his new pet, Sophie and Jake had taken to calling the unruly pup the Lakota word for dog, which stuck.

    No Mercy

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