Friday, May 20, 2011
The adjective "draconian" is an idiom for particularly harsh laws. It is a reference to Draco, the legislator (in this instance, the writer of written laws) in ancient Athens in the 7th century B.C.
Example: "The disgraced banker was dramatically granted bail last night under draconian conditions as it emerged he will face a trial for his alleged sex attack on a hotel maid."
Draco's laws put lower class debtors into slavery, and the penalty for even minor offenses was death. When asked why, he replied that he could think of no lesser punishment for the minor crimes, and unfortunately, he did not have any greater punishment available for the greater crimes. (!) So yes, Draco was not playing around.
In this context, the use of "draconian" in the example above evokes the phrase, in the American constitution, cruel and unusual punishment, but the word can be used to exaggerate circumstances. (This writer believes that the above use is stretching the word very thin, but it is an example of how English writers will use the word. - J)