in·​kling ˈiŋ-kliŋ How to pronounce inkling (audio)
: a slight knowledge or vague notion
had not the faintest inkling of what it was all aboutH. W. Carter
: a slight indication or suggestion : hint, clue
there was no path—no inkling even of a trackNew Yorker

Did you know?

This may come as a surprise, but inkling has not a drop to do with ink, whether of squid, tattoo, or any other variety. Originating in English in the early 16th century, inkling comes instead from Middle English yngkiling, meaning “whisper or mention,” and perhaps further back from the verb inclen, meaning “to hint at.” An early sense of the word meant “a faint perceptible sound or undertone” or “rumor,” but now people usually use the word to refer to a vague notion someone has (“had an inkling they would be there”), or to a hint of something present (“a conversation with not even an inkling of anger”). One related word you might not have heard of is the rare verb inkle, a back-formation of inkling that in some British English dialects can mean “to utter or communicate in an undertone or whisper, to hint, give a hint of” or “to have an idea or notion of.” (Inkle is also a noun referring to “a colored linen tape or braid woven on a very narrow loom and used for trimming” but etymologists don’t have an inkling of where that inkle came from.)

Examples of inkling in a Sentence

did not give the slightest inkling that he was planning to quit
Recent Examples on the Web Three kids would be really rough, but there’s always that little inkling. Amber Ferguson, Washington Post, 15 Mar. 2024 Headwinds have always blown around in business English, but the phrase economic headwinds serves a special purpose: a majestic waving of the hand, an abandon to the fates, an inkling of force majeure. Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times, 13 Mar. 2024 But then, his third appearance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, this time as a solo headliner, was the first inkling of a true shift in opinion. Brittany Spanos, Rolling Stone, 8 Feb. 2024 This was a dead period in Southern California collegiate basketball, the inklings of Ben Howland’s revitalization of a legendary UCLA program and long before Andy Enfield righted the ship at USC – and still, Los Angeles came out en masse for Farmer’s final home game. Luca Evans, Orange County Register, 26 Jan. 2024 An early inkling of the meteorological mayhem came Thursday morning when Interstate 80, the main highway over the Sierra, was closed eastbound for more than three hours after a big rig overturned near Donner Lake interchange, blocking both lanes of traffic, just as the snow was beginning to fall. Ethan Baron, The Mercury News, 29 Feb. 2024 Siblings often know things about each other that their parents do not, but Joe had no inkling of the Ismailov persona. Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 2024 There was no inkling in those initial stories of what was going on behind the scenes. Sharon Coolidge, The Enquirer, 25 Jan. 2024 Fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel had an inkling, but Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber tweaked things just enough to deliver a finale that plays like a perfect rock song — sweaty, emotional, intense, loud, familiar, and surprising. Ew Staff Published,, 12 Dec. 2023

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

Word History


Middle English yngkiling whisper, mention, probably from inclen to hint at; akin to Old English inca suspicion

First Known Use

1513, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of inkling was in 1513


Dictionary Entries Near inkling

Cite this Entry

“Inkling.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


in·​kling ˈiŋ-kliŋ How to pronounce inkling (audio)
: a vague notion : hint
didn't have an inkling of what it all meant

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