innocuous

adjective
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

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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
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Recent Examples on the Web No cultural tradition is so innocuous that it needn't be protected from the slightest criticism, at least if the critic has the wrong ethnic pedigree. Bret Stephens, Star Tribune, "Sensitivity standards are tightening beyond parody," 23 Feb. 2021 When asked an innocuous question about Downs on Sunday, Cora said defense seems to come easily to him. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, "There’s plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the Red Sox this season," 21 Feb. 2021 The timing of the question appeared to be innocuous — a simple request to chart the progress of a player in the aftermath of another great game in the midst of an exceptional stretch. Eric Walden, The Salt Lake Tribune, "‘More aggressive’ Joe Ingles has helped the Utah Jazz overcome Mike Conley’s recent absence," 18 Feb. 2021 Better to take out your vitriol over something as innocuous as sports, rather than against something (or someone) more impactful. Ira Winderman, sun-sentinel.com, "ASK IRA: Are the Heat who we think they are (or aren’t)?," 31 Dec. 2020 Yet, for something so seemingly innocuous, where a dog sleeps is a frequent source of disagreement not only within households, but in the dog community as a whole. Meghan Overdeep, Southern Living, "Is It OK to Let Your Dog Sleep in Bed?," 11 Dec. 2020 Cas9 proteins from more innocuous bacteria might be less likely to trigger a bad reaction. Niko Mccarty, Scientific American, "Newly Studied Proteins Expand CRISPR's Editing Range," 26 Jan. 2021 It’s a vector vaccine, which uses a more innocuous cold virus, called an adenovirus, to deliver instructions to the body for making a key coronavirus protein. Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, "Vaccine Trials Can Still Surprise Us," 1 Dec. 2020 But while this seems like a pretty innocuous photo to the average bystander, Swifties spied a deeper meaning. Natalie Morin, refinery29.com, "Did Jake Gyllenhaal Intentionally Taunt Taylor Swift Fans With This Photo?," 30 Sep. 2020

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.

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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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Time Traveler for innocuous

Time Traveler

The first known use of innocuous was in 1631

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Last Updated

27 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Innocuous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/innocuous. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for innocuous

innocuous

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of innocuous

: not likely to bother or offend anyone
: causing no injury

innocuous

adjective
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

innocuous

adjective
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

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