Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


behaviour in which you refuse to obey or show respect for someone who has authority over you

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun insubordination was first used in English at the end of the 18th century, by Edmund Burke among others. It may be a borrowing from the French ‘insubordination’.


Someone who is insubordinate fails to obey or show respect to someone who has authority over them, and insubordination is behaviour of this type. Both words come ultimately from Latin origins meaning ‘to place in a lower rank’, the ‘in-‘ prefix indicating rejection of this inferior position.  A subordinate is someone who has less power or authority than another person and is thus required to obey them and show them respect. Subordinate is also an adjective used to describe someone with less power and authority than someone else. The verb subordinate is generally used in the passive to refer to things that are considered to be less important than other things. Subordination means the fact of having less power or authority than someone else.  Subordinate also has meaning in linguistics, to refer to clauses that are dependent on other clauses. The term insubordination is generally used these days in the context of working relationships, especially but not only in the armed forces. It collocates with adjectives like ‘gross’ ‘rank’ and ‘flagrant’, as well as with nouns like ‘indiscipline’, ‘disrespect’ and ‘disloyalty’.


“The principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes – the legal subordination of one sex to the other – is wrong in itself and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement;”
(John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women)

Related words

defiance, disobedience, non-compliance, rebellion

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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