Definitions

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

  • adj. Given to or marked by willful, often perverse deviation from what is desired, expected, or required in order to gratify one's own impulses or inclinations. See Synonyms at unruly.
  • adj. Swayed or prompted by caprice; unpredictable.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. given to wilful, perverse deviation from the expected norm; tending to stray
  • adj. obstinate, contrary and unpredictable
  • adj. not on target

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Taking one's own way; disobedient; froward; perverse; willful.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Full of caprices or whims; froward; perverse.
  • Irregular; vacillating; unsteady, undulating. or fluctuating: as, the wayward flight of certain birds.
  • Synonyms Wayward, Wilful, Contrary, Untoward, headstrong, intractable, unruly. The italicized words tend toward the same meaning by different ways. Wayward, by derivation, applies to one who turns away from what he is desired or expected to be or to do; but. from its seeming derivation, it has come to apply more often to one who turns toward ways that suit himself, whether or not they happen to be what others desire. Wilful suggests that the person is full of self-will, which asserts itself against those whose wishes ought to be deferred to or whose commands should be obeyed. Contrary and untoward express the same idea, the one in a positive, the other in a negative form. Contrary is an energetic word, expressing the idea that one takes, or is disposed to take, the course exactly opposite to that which he is expected or desired to take. Contrariness, when ingrained, becomes perverseness: as, a contrary disposition; a contrary fellow. This use of contrary is by many considered colloquial, but has the recommendation of figurative force. Contrary and untoward view the person as one to be managed; untoward views the person also as the object of mental or moral discipline: this perhaps through its use in Acts ii. 40. An untoward person is not responsive to persuasion, advice, influence, or requests; untoward circumstances are similarly such as do not help us in our plans. All these words imply that the only consistency in the person's conduct is in this self-willed independence of others' wishes or opposition to them, but untoward implies it least. See perverse.

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

  • adj. resistant to guidance or discipline

Etymologies

Middle English, short for awaiward, turned away, perverse : awai, away; see away + -ward, -ward.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
way +‎ -ward (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Pastor Collom's ties with the kids relate to his own youth, which he describes as wayward on his chapter's Web site.

    Vail Daily - Top Stories

  • "Someone's Gonna Rescue You" is not exactly Young's finest compositional hour a directionless tune sung partly in wayward falsetto.

    Neil Young: Le Noise

  • As for our little Madelon, the small, round, pinafored child was hardly recognisable in this slim little girl, in white frock, with brown hair that hung in short wayward tangling waves, instead of curling in soft ringlets all over her head; and yet Graham, who rarely forgot

    My Little Lady

  • But instead of providing Jeremy with the support he needed, the Westerly School Department filed a petition with the state's family court asking that Jeremy be found "wayward" - a hopelessly technical term that few parents or kids understand - on the basis of his alleged

    Blog of Rights: Official Blog of the American Civil Liberties Union

  • All accounted for, then pondered, one worries about how best to change the direction of what some might call a wayward ways.

    On Bullying, Suicide and The Golden Rule

  • Indeed, given the parochial concerns that members of Congress have with getting themselves re-elected, and given the power of the president to threaten and cajole members of Congress, it might be argued that Jefferson was prescient in seeing the need to provide an "outside-the-Beltway" avenue -- closer to the people -- for calling a wayward or criminal chief executive to account.

    Message to Washington State Legislators (and to those in VT, NM and elsewhere)

  • Present day scientists have thus chosen to call a wayward and menacing celestial body Apophis.

    The End of the World?

  • Please tell me what in the world BET has to do with this story about the KKK or about those so-called wayward children in Nashville?

    "KKK" Painted On 2 Cars

  • Or that of the Old Testament prophets who called wayward people to task with unsparing honesty?

    Archive 2006-04-01

  • Her mother, knowing better how the world goes on, promiscuously, and at leisure, and how the right point slides away when stronger forces come to bear, was very often vexed by the crotchets of the girl, and called her wayward, headstrong, and sometimes nothing milder than “a saucy miss.”

    Mary Anerley

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