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

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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 Writing in the Journal of the History of Sexuality in 2003, scholar Katherine B. Crawford argued that many of Henry’s political opponents painted his sexuality as deviant in order to discredit him. Nora Mcgreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, "Petite Portrait of Henry III, King Who Challenged Sexual Norms in 16th-Century France, Discovered," 27 Jan. 2021 Part of the book’s argument is that Black women originated a set of social arrangements that were once considered deviant and are now commonplace: expansive notions of family, generous intimacy and sociality, fluid romantic relationships. Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker, "How Saidiya Hartman Retells the History of Black Life," 19 Oct. 2020 Gambhir’s revolutionary ambition was to erase the long, silent, lethal interval between the first deviant cell and a grim lab report. Madeline Drexler, The Atlantic, "A Medical Revolution Too Late for the Man Who Started It," 20 Oct. 2020 Five states, including two where electors can be replaced, penalize a deviant vote. Peter Krouse, cleveland, "If President Donald Trump were to die before the election, this is what likely would happen," 5 Oct. 2020 Holland is aces as a teenager trying to make right a traumatic past, but several recognizable stars play a bunch of sinister personas, from Robert Pattinson as a deviant Tennessee preacher to Riley Keough and Jason Clarke as serial killers. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "What to stream this weekend: Janelle Monae in 'Antebellum,' Netflix's 'The Devil All the Time'," 18 Sep. 2020 Sociologists define stigma as the social devaluing of people who possess a trait seen as negative or deviant, such as a physical or mental disability or even an ethnicity. Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, Science | AAAS, "From leprosy to COVID-19, how stigma makes it harder to fight epidemics," 16 Sep. 2020 But the idea of using the military to crush protests used to seem deviant, too. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, "Why Are Some Journalists Afraid of “Moral Clarity”?," 24 June 2020 About 30 states attempt to bind electors to the winning candidate, though some of those states don’t penalize people who cast deviant votes. Greg Stohr,, "High Court to Rule on ‘Faithless Electors’ in Presidential Vote," 29 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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, "The Onion created lovable ‘Diamond Joe’ Biden. Then it destroyed him.," 9 Mar. 2020 Similarly, unmarried men were deemed narcissistic, deviant, and pathological. T.l. Andrews, Quartz, "More people are dying alone—and the global economy isn’t prepared for it," 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,, "Why is a man starring in a play about legendary politician Bella Abzug?," 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, "Trump — or What, Exactly?," 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, "Smokey (the) Bear is still keeping his watchful eye on America’s forests after 75 years on the job," 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, "League of Legends catches cheaters by making bots fight each other," 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, "The best Blade Runner anime would have nothing to do with Blade Runner," 2 Dec. 2018 Women’s magazines and news outlets depict women who vote Republican as deviants. Carrie Lukas, WSJ, "Check Your Progressive Privilege," 12 Dec. 2018

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.

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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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Learn More about deviant

Time Traveler for deviant

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for deviant

Last Updated

13 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Deviant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for deviant



English Language Learners Definition of deviant

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: different from what is considered to be normal or morally correct



English Language Learners Definition of deviant (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who behaves in a way that most people consider to be not normal or morally correct


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

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