a. A fugitive from the law.
b. A habitual criminal.
c. A rebel; a nonconformist: a social outlaw.
2. A person excluded from normal legal protection and rights.
3. A wild or vicious horse or other animal.
tr.v. out·lawed, out·law·ing, out·laws
1. To declare illegal: outlawed the sale of firearms.
2. To place under a ban; prohibit: outlawed smoking in the house.
3. To deprive (one declared to be a criminal fugitive) of the protection of the law.
[Middle English outlaue, from Old English ūtlaga, from Old Norse ūtlagi, from ūtlagr, outlawed, banished : ūt, out; see ud- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots + lög, law; see legh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Word History: The word outlaw brings to mind the cattle rustlers and gunslingers of the Wild West, but it comes to us from a much earlier time, when guns were not yet invented but cattle stealing was. Outlaw can be traced back to the Old Norse word ūtlagr, "outlawed, banished," made up of ūt, "out," and lög, "law." An ūtlagi (derived from ūtlagr) was someone outside the protection of the law. The Scandinavians, who invaded and settled in England during the 8th through the 11th century, gave us the Old English word ūtlaga, which designated someone who because of criminal acts had to give up his property to the crown and could be killed without recrimination. The legal status of the outlaw became less severe over the course of the Middle Ages. However, the looser use of the word to designate criminals in general, which arose in Middle English, lives on in tales of the Wild West.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.