in·​noc·​u·​ous | \ i-ˈnä-kyə-wəs How to pronounce innocuous (audio) \

Definition of innocuous

1 : producing no injury : harmless
2 : not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility : inoffensive, insipid

Other Words from innocuous

innocuously adverb
innocuousness noun

Look at the Prefix to Define Innocuous

Innocuous has harmful roots – it comes to us from the Latin adjective innocuus, which was formed by combining the negative prefix in- with a form of the verb nocēre, meaning "to harm" or "to hurt." In addition, nocēre is related to the truly "harmful" words noxious, nocent, and even nocuous. Innocent is from nocēre as well, although like innocuous it has the in- prefix negating the hurtful possibilities. Innocuous first appeared in print in the early 17th century with the clearly Latin-derived meaning "harmless or causing no injury" (as in "an innocuous gas"). The second sense is a metaphorical extension of the idea of injury, used to indicate that someone or something does not cause hurt feelings, or even strong feelings ("an innocuous book" or "innocuous issues," for example).

Examples of innocuous in a Sentence

Gossip is a relatively innocuous manifestation; fashioning one's self as eternally battling a white America mired in "racism" is a more noisome one. — John McWhorter, Wall Street Journal, 17 Sept. 2003 Small and innocuous looking, the habanero is uncontested as the hottest pepper in the world, the mother of all peppers. — Jim Robbins, Smithsonian, January 1992 And there was LeRoy … a somewhat gruesome but innocuous neighborhood dimwit who gave me the creeps when he sat down on the front stoop to listen to a bunch of us talking after school. — Philip Roth, New York Times Book Review, 18 Oct. 1987 The salamander, an innocuous amphibian like a big newt, was also regarded with a mixture of horror and awe. — David Attenborough, The First Eden, 1987 He told a few innocuous jokes. those innocuous lies we must tell every day if society is to remain civil See More
Recent Examples on the Web But even that was not enough for a stodgy corporation that, when confronted with an act of individual joy that would look innocuous today and was embraced by fans then, very much lived up to its reputation as the No Fun League. Washington Post, 4 Feb. 2022 Piles of waste rock might look innocuous, but mined metals are often found in rocks that also contain sulfides. Elizabeth Miller, Scientific American, 4 Nov. 2021 These seemingly innocuous falsehoods and misdirections are designed to keep you off balance. Kyle Harris, The New Yorker, 8 Apr. 2022 Even something as innocuous as the popular children’s gaming environment Roblox can turn bad in the right setting. Brianna Dym, The Conversation, 15 Mar. 2022 Although most genetic changes are innocuous as viruses mutate, some can make the mutant more adept at infecting cells, for example, or evading antibodies. Matthew Burgess, Fortune, 8 Dec. 2021 And argument that was caused by Mary totally overreacting to an innocuous comment Lisa made. Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 31 Oct. 2021 Actions as innocuous as King bending his knee on the ground were classified as threatening. Michael J. Coren, Quartz, 21 Apr. 2021 Told in real-time, the film starts with the first meeting of a seemingly innocuous women’s group that reveals itself to be a gathering of white supremacists who quickly escalate to a vile hate crime. Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times, 18 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'innocuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of innocuous

1631, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for innocuous

Latin innocuus, from in- + nocēre — see innocent entry 1

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The first known use of innocuous was in 1631

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Last Updated

10 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Innocuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for innocuous


in·​noc·​u·​ous | \ i-ˈnä-kyə-wəs How to pronounce innocuous (audio) \

Kids Definition of innocuous

: not harmful innocuous chemicals

Other Words from innocuous

innocuously adverb


in·​noc·​u·​ous | \ in-ˈäk-yə-wəs How to pronounce innocuous (audio) \

Medical Definition of innocuous

: producing no injury : not harmful

Other Words from innocuous

innocuously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on innocuous

Nglish: Translation of innocuous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of innocuous for Arabic Speakers


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