in·​kling | \ ˈiŋ-kliŋ How to pronounce inkling (audio) \

Definition of inkling

1 : a slight knowledge or vague notion had not the faintest inkling of what it was all about— H. W. Carter
2 : a slight indication or suggestion : hint, clue there was no path—no inkling even of a trackNew Yorker

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Originating in English in the early 16th century, inkling derives from Middle English yngkiling, meaning "whisper or mention," and perhaps further from the verb inclen, meaning "to hint at." It also shares a distant relationship with the Old English noun inca, meaning "suspicion." 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 tiny bit of knowledge or information that a person receives about something. One related word you might not have heard of is the verb inkle, a back-formation of inkling that occurs in some British English dialects and means "to have an idea or notion of."

Examples of inkling in a Sentence

did not give the slightest inkling that he was planning to quit
Recent Examples on the Web The first public inkling that someone had leaked information from inside the Mesa County elections office came on Aug. 2. Emma Brown, Anchorage Daily News, 26 Sep. 2021 The first inkling came during an appointment this April, Hellquist alleges in a lawsuit filed this weekend. Washington Post, 16 Sep. 2021 The first inkling of drought for the Sevillas happened in 2019 when the water pressure from their well dropped. Los Angeles Times, 19 Aug. 2021 But: The collector must have at least had an inkling. Guy Martin, Forbes, 6 Sep. 2021 Something is lost without a figure like Todd, but the ideas here have merit, if only the artists involved had an inkling for what to do with them. Angelica Jade Bastién, Vulture, 25 Aug. 2021 The passengers on four airline flights — American 11, United 175, American 77 and United 93 — boarded their planes and departed for their destinations with no inkling of what awaited them. Los Angeles Times, 11 Sep. 2021 Anyone with an inkling about the realities of big-time college sports knows that’s laughable. Michael Taylor, San Antonio Express-News, 30 June 2021 An inkling of awareness began to rise within me: alcohol was hindering my dreams—and me. Kelley Manley, Marie Claire, 23 Aug. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'inkling.' 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 inkling

1513, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for inkling

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

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The first known use of inkling was in 1513

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Last Updated

14 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Inkling.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for inkling



English Language Learners Definition of inkling

: a slight, uncertain idea about something : a slight amount of knowledge about something


in·​kling | \ ˈiŋ-kliŋ How to pronounce inkling (audio) \

Kids Definition of inkling

: a vague notion : hint She hadn't an inkling there was a problem.

More from Merriam-Webster on inkling

Nglish: Translation of inkling for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of inkling for Arabic Speakers


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