de·​vi·​ant | \ ˈdē-vē-ənt How to pronounce deviant (audio) \

Definition of deviant

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: straying or deviating especially from an accepted norm (see norm sense 2) deviant behavior


plural deviants

Definition of deviant (Entry 2 of 2)

: someone or something that deviates from a norm especially : a person who differs markedly (as in social adjustment or behavior) from what is considered normal or acceptable social/moral/sexual deviants Those who commit crimes also watch TV, go to the grocery store, and have their hair cut. Thus, while our stereotypes may suggest that there is a wide gulf between deviants and conventional people …, the behavior of deviants is often very conventional. — Paul C. Higgins and Richard R. Butler The theory thus centers on the question: What are the processes through which people are assigned a social identity as deviants by others and enter upon ongoing careers as deviants? — Mary Beth Norton et al. Acts of punishment thus designate who is in our community by clearly defining who is not in our community. Social solidarity is purchased through the punishment of deviants. — Mark Colvin

Deviant & Deviate

Deviant and deviate share a common root (the Latin deviare “to wander off the road, swerve, deviate”) and have some similarities in meaning, but they differ in notable ways. Deviant has functioned in English as an adjective (since the 15th century) and as a noun (since the early 20th century), in each case with a sense that suggests a straying from an accepted norm or from what is considered standard behavior. In contrast to deviant’s socially prescriptive connotations, the verb deviate often implies a less judgmental sense of swerving from the usual way (as in “he never deviated from his routine of drinking coffee with breakfast.”)

Examples of deviant in a Sentence

Adjective a study of deviant behavior among criminals some studies show that many violent criminals begin exhibiting deviant behavior in early childhood
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Thatcher’s government has just passed a law that stereotypes lesbians and gays as paedophiles, recruiting children for their ‘deviant’ lifestyles. Alex Ritman, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 May 2022 Moynihan’s essay was based on the sociologist Kai Erikson’s observation that the proportion of people whom society deems deviant remains constant over time even as the supply of actual deviants ebbs and flows. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 6 Apr. 2022 That the virtual world Zuckerberg wants to invent might open this Pandora’s box of deviant digitization should come as no surprise. Timothy Lloyd, The New Republic, 29 Nov. 2021 The cause of the deviant engine activity remains unknown. Peter Aitken, Fox News, 16 Oct. 2021 Maynard appears to have taught briefly at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, where a Gary Maynard was listed as a lecturer in criminal justice studies specializing in criminal justice, cults and deviant behavior. Fox News, 19 Nov. 2021 Across the nation, a small portion of these deviant kids are showing off their work on sites like Twitter, with videos posted of users stealing everything from light poles to bathroom sinks. Karly Williams, Chron, 16 Sep. 2021 Speaking of the Evija, Lotus says the wait for that deliciously deviant electric rocket is nearly over, with the first deliveries happening this winter. Car and Driver, 15 Sep. 2021 If narrowly tailored, such a state-wide mandate reasonably would free college athletes from some of the fear and anxiety that a deviant professor could try to exploit the faculty-student power dynamic for sports gambling purposes. Marc Edelman, Forbes, 30 Aug. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Phoenix’s Joker was a real deviant; Rogowski makes Hans a dissatisfied lover and nonconforming irredeemable — countering the millennium’s anodyne Buttigieg progressive. Armond White, National Review, 11 Mar. 2022 This depiction of Biden as a lovable deviant helped shape public perception of the real-life Biden as someone fun and relatable. Elahe Izadi, Washington Post, 9 Mar. 2020 Similarly, unmarried men were deemed narcissistic, deviant, and pathological. T.l. Andrews, Quartz, 21 Dec. 2019 There is a long tradition in theatre of casting men as women who are older, stricter, meaner, fatter, louder — in other words, deviant. Mia J. Merrill,, 20 Nov. 2019 But then again, I and my family were not libeled as traitors, crooks, deviants, and imbeciles, and put in legal jeopardy for 22 months as the media and ex-Obama officials ginned up hoax after hoax. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, 27 Aug. 2019 Kosek said the fire-suppression campaign reflects a belief, deeply rooted in the Forest Service’s history, that people who set fires in forests are deviants and evildoers. Wendy Melillo, The Conversation, 19 July 2019 The process of catching cheaters in video games is muddled in secrecy: the more developers say, the better equipped deviants are to cheat more efficiently next time around. Patricia Hernandez, The Verge, 24 Oct. 2018 The streets of his New York are filled with rubble, leftover from a civil war between militant Christians and social deviants. Adi Robertson, The Verge, 2 Dec. 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'deviant.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of deviant


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1923, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for deviant


see deviate entry 1

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The first known use of deviant was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

8 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Deviant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for deviant


de·​vi·​ant | \ -ənt How to pronounce deviant (audio) \

Medical Definition of deviant

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: deviating especially from some accepted norm : characterized by deviation (as from a standard of conduct) socially deviant behavior



Medical Definition of deviant (Entry 2 of 2)

: something that deviates from a norm especially : a person who differs markedly (as in social adjustment or sexual behavior) from what is considered normal for a group

More from Merriam-Webster on deviant

Nglish: Translation of deviant for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of deviant for Arabic Speakers


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