1 of 2


de·​vi·​ant ˈdē-vē-ənt How to pronounce deviant (audio)
: straying or deviating especially from an accepted norm (see norm sense 2)
deviant behavior


2 of 2


plural deviants
: 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
The group was aware — perhaps even proud — of the deviant nature of their messaging. Hanna Krueger,, 15 July 2023 After a season of mystery, wondering, and teasing, the show's sophomore year turned the heat up—and really depicted some of the cannibalism and generally deviant behavior that fans wondered about throughout Season 1. Evan Romano, Men's Health, 29 May 2023 Jähner does not comment on no one seeming to have drawn the lesson that the anti-Semitic stereotype of dishonest and deviant economic behavior that Germans had long identified as a Jewish racial characteristic had turned out to be situationally, not racially, caused. Christopher R. Browning, The New York Review of Books, 1 Dec. 2022 The Florida bill’s opponents are worried about a world in which teachers have no meaningful way to discuss the real world inhabited by their students, which risks leaving students with the impression that non-straight or non-gender-conforming individuals are somehow deviant. Washington Post, 12 Apr. 2022 A certain lineage of heavy metal theater now ends with Ghost, a Swedish outfit that wears deviant Catholic iconography as Alice Cooper had a serpent, priming a radio-friendly catalog with arena spectacle and more than a hint of the dark arts. Nathan Rizzo | For The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, 5 Jan. 2022 Sure, the wine was being consumed by a deviant cannibal. Esther Mobley, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Feb. 2023 In 1975, Philip Roth was too deviant to be totemic. Henri Cartier-Bresson, The New Yorker, 6 Feb. 2023 For many populist Republicans, the Koch brothers and their groups’ opposition to Obamacare and Build Back Better and their support for tea partiers, lower taxes and deregulation offer no absolution for their deviant views on immigration. Robert T. Garrett, Dallas News, 3 Feb. 2022
The lovers’ power play serves to flesh out their compatibility, not paint them as deviants. TIME, 23 Oct. 2023 These communities were also more likely to believe in outdated stereotypes, like all cannabis users are lazy, dangerous, deviant or unintelligent. Niklas Kouparanis, Rolling Stone, 26 July 2023 Meanwhile, qualities associated with femininity – such as emotional expressiveness and interdependence – are thought of as inferior, substandard or deviant. Carol Hay, Fortune, 17 July 2023 First, in comparison to a deviant individual, other employees can draw more positive conclusions about themselves; and second, a deviant can be informative about organizational norms, thereby improving employee role clarity. Ncbi Rofl, Discover Magazine, 13 Sep. 2012 When justice is sought in the wake of a scam, skepticism is positioned as the norm, while gullibility is treated as a maladaptive, pathological, deviant form of socioeconomic being. Hannah Zeavin, Harper's Magazine, 15 June 2022 James even has his own Penny Lane in the form of Ginesta (Suki Waterhouse), a model, trust-fund baby and Dalí groupie who shows him the ropes of this brave new world of disco, drugs and deviant behavior. Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times, 9 June 2023 Paduch took advantage of his victims for his own deviant satisfaction. Audrey Conklin, Fox News, 11 Apr. 2023 Male politicians who dress up in women’s clothes are no longer called deviants but honored and celebrated as women. Madeleine Kearns, National Review, 26 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'deviant.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



see deviate entry 1

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1923, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near deviant

Cite this Entry

“Deviant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
: deviating especially from some accepted standard of behavior or morals


2 of 2 noun
: a person whose behavior or morals differs from accepted or normal standards

Medical Definition


1 of 2 adjective
de·​vi·​ant -ənt How to pronounce deviant (audio)
: deviating especially from some accepted norm : characterized by deviation (as from a standard of conduct)
socially deviant behavior


2 of 2 noun
: 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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