Definition of furtive
- a furtive glance
- exchanged furtive smiles
- had a furtive look about him
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He cast a furtive glance in our direction.
We exchanged furtive smiles across the table.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'furtive.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Furtive has a shadowy history. It may have slipped into English directly from Latin or it may have covered its tracks by arriving via French. (The French furtif derived from the Latin furtivus.) But however "furtive" got into English, the Latin word fur, meaning "thief," is at the root. "Fur" is related to, and may come from, the Greek phōr, which also means "thief." When first used in English in the early 17th century, "furtive" carried a meaning of "done in a way so as not to be seen," though later it also came to mean, less commonly, "stolen." Whichever meaning you choose, the elusive ancestry of "furtive" is particularly fitting, since a thief must be furtive to avoid getting caught in the act!
backstairs, behind-the-scenes, clandestine, covert, hugger-mugger, hush-hush, private, privy, secret, sneak, sneaking, sneaky, stealth, stealthy, surreptitious, undercover, underground, underhand, underhanded;
: done in a quiet and secret way to avoid being noticed
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