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


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

Compared with the cast of last year’s repellent Suspiria, which emphasized what can only be called dykeyness (to the point that the actresses acted openly deviant, ravenous, and ghoulish) Olivia’s characterizations are firstly humane. Armond White, National Review, "The Vintage French Film Olivia Bests Today’s #Resistance Filmmakers," 21 Aug. 2019 Snowflake yeasts have their own way of purging themselves of deviant cells. Elizabeth Pennisi, Science | AAAS, "The momentous transition to multicellular life may not have been so hard after all," 28 June 2018 Those are the questions Virginia Tech researchers Mattia Samory and Tanushree Mitra, who study deviant behavior in online discussions, tried to answer by analyzing a decade's worth of Reddit conspiracy talk. Emma Grey Ellis, WIRED, "Here’s One Way to Reform an Internet Conspiracy Theorist," 27 June 2018 At turns, depending on your decisions, the government response to the deviant AI crisis is a laughably drastic, society-crippling overreaction and/or a severe military underreaction to a major threat. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Detroit: Become Human review: Robotic in all of the wrong ways," 24 May 2018 The beast in Qiu Miaojin’s modernist novels is the consciousness in women that is aware of a deviant lust for women’s bodies. Ankita Chakraborty, Longreads, "A Crocodile In Paris: The Queer Classics of Qiu Miaojin," 8 June 2018 The game takes on a whole new dimension, as participants not only tackle traditional challenges but also try to sneak a deviant move by fellow players without apprehension. Josh Linkner, Detroit Free Press, "New Monopoly game created for cheaters, questionable behavior," 25 May 2018 Fuller in fact is subjected to a humiliating interrogation about possible deviant behavior, but lies his way out of it. John Von Rhein,, "A gay love affair in '50s D.C. plays out to touching effect in 'Fellow Travelers'," 18 Mar. 2018 Spotlight told the story of a gritty investigation into the deviant behavior of priests that was undertaken by the Boston Post as the financial sun was beginning to set on American newspapers. Michael Miner, Chicago Reader, "Film / Media / News / Politics The Post is a Happy Days for old journalists," 29 Jan. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

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 But for almost as long as they have been portrayed, they have been characterized as socially deviant or at least responsible for their kids' troubles., "The Evolution Of The Single Mom In TV & Movies," 11 May 2018 These portrayals were part of a system that painted African Americans as deviant and therefore deserving of subpar treatment. P.r. Lockhart, Vox, "Megyn Kelly’s initial defense of blackface ignored the practice’s deeply racist history," 24 Oct. 2018 But these incidents may also point to something else — like a more explicit desire to preserve racial hierarchies by casting people of color as deviants who can be removed at any moment. P.r. Lockhart, Vox, "Living While Black and the criminalization of blackness," 1 Aug. 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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Statistics for deviant

Last Updated

5 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for deviant

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

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on deviant

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for deviant

Spanish Central: Translation of deviant

Nglish: Translation of deviant for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of deviant for Arabic Speakers

Comments on deviant

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to make a temporary encampment

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