Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun sa·dism \ˈsā-ˌdi-zəm, ˈsa-\

Simple Definition of sadism

  • : enjoyment that someone gets from being violent or cruel or from causing pain; especially : sexual enjoyment from hurting or punishing someone

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of sadism

  1. 1 :  a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others (as on a love object) — compare masochism

  2. 2a :  delight in crueltyb :  excessive cruelty

sadist play \ˈsā-dist, ˈsa-\ noun
sadistic play \sə-ˈdis-tik also sā- or sa-\ adjective
sadistically play \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

Examples of sadism in a sentence

  1. <a troubled youth with a streak of sadism in him>

Origin of sadism

International Scientific Vocabulary, from Marquis de Sade

First Known Use: 1888

Medical Dictionary


play play
noun sa·dism \ˈsā-ˌdiz-əm, ˈsad-ˌiz-\

Medical Definition of sadism

  1. :  a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others (as on a love object)—compare algolagnia, masochism

sadistic \sə-ˈdis-tik also sā- or sa-\play adjective
sadistically \-ti-k(ə-)lē\play adverb

Biographical Note for sadism

Sade \sȧd\play , Marquis de (Comte Donatien–Alphonse–François) (1740–1814), French soldier and writer. From the time that he was a young nobleman Sade consorted with prostitutes and developed a taste for sexual perversions. He was imprisoned on several occasions for his harsh abuse of prostitutes and gross licentiousness. After arriving at the Bastille in 1784 he began writing erotic novels in which he gave full expression to his sexual fantasies. His most famous novel was The Adversities of Virtue (1787). His works are known for their graphic descriptions of sexual perversions. His last years were spent in an insane asylum at Charenton, where he wrote plays for his fellow inmates to perform. His compulsion for physically and sexually abusing others gave rise to the concept of sadism.

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up sadism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


tending to dismiss important matters

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

perplex disapprove soothe reduce
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.