pro·​mis·​cu·​ous | \ prə-ˈmi-skyə-wəs How to pronounce promiscuous (audio) \

Essential Meaning of promiscuous

1 : having or involving many sexual partners a promiscuous man/woman promiscuous behavior promiscuous sex
2 formal : including or involving too many people or things : not limited in a careful or proper way He was promiscuous with his apologies. [=he apologized often for many different reasons] a promiscuous selection of poems

Full Definition of promiscuous

1 : having or involving many sexual partners : not restricted to one sexual partner or few sexual partners
2 : not restricted to one class, sort, or person : indiscriminate education … cheapened through the promiscuous distribution of diplomas— Norman Cousins
3 : casual, irregular promiscuous eating habits
4 : composed of all sorts of persons or things

Other Words from promiscuous

promiscuously adverb
promiscuousness noun

The Multiple Meanings of Promiscuous

Promiscuous (from Latin promiscuus “without distinction, taken from every different type”) has a range of meanings in English. The oldest of these is “composed of all sorts of persons and things” (as in “a promiscuous array of books” or “the promiscuous company at the tavern”). This meaning suggests a random assortment, not necessarily with negative implications.

Within the last few hundred years, promiscuous has added the usually negatively-tinged meanings “indiscriminate” (“promiscuous destruction by bombing”), “casual or careless” (“the president’s promiscuous dishonesty”), and of course, “not restricted to one sexual partner.”

Does this mean that the word itself is promiscuous? Not at all. It is not uncommon for English words to display this polysemous (“having multiple meanings”) character, and promiscuous is actually on the tidy end of the spectrum, as far as these things go. Some English words have dozens of meanings.

Examples of promiscuous in a Sentence

a promiscuous selection of poems since I just collect stamps that I happen to like, my collection is pretty promiscuous
Recent Examples on the Web She and the promiscuous Julia (Jenna Lamia), who owns the bowling alley, vie (in vain) for Harry's romantic attentions. Ars Staff, Ars Technica, 31 Dec. 2021 Because the risk to American personnel is significantly less than having boots on the ground, there will be a temptation to promiscuous drone strikes as an easy counterrorism solution. W. James Antle Iii, The Week, 17 Sep. 2021 For example, the oversexed and criminally minded Black man, the angry Black welfare queen, or the fiery and promiscuous Latina and her drug smuggling machismo Latino male counterpart. Maia Niguel Hoskin, Forbes, 30 Oct. 2021 The decision was interpreted broadly, fuelling a perception that single pregnant women were promiscuous and unfit to be parents. Sheelah Kolhatkar, The New Yorker, 18 Oct. 2021 Farrokhzad challenged the traditional norms and structures of Persian poetry while also living an openly promiscuous life, writing about her affair with a married man and scandalizing Iranian society. Christopher Vourlias, Variety, 12 Oct. 2021 But throughout his trial, Mr. Kelly’s legal team appeared to employ tactics that recalled an earlier era, attempting to paint the bevy of accusers who testified as jealous, fame-seeking, promiscuous liars. Emily Palmer, New York Times, 30 Sep. 2021 The play’s lead characters are Myrna, a chaste, ultra-conservative activist who eventually becomes a right-wing talk show host, and Myra, a promiscuous, rebellious, feminist, ultra-liberal anti-war activist who betrays her sister more than once. San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 Sep. 2021 Zhu thinks that promiscuous, highly interconnected protein networks might also promote the ability of organisms to acquire useful new capacities through evolution. Quanta Magazine, 16 Sep. 2021

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

1570, in the meaning defined at sense 4

History and Etymology for promiscuous

Latin promiscuus, from pro- forth + miscēre to mix — more at pro-, mix

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Time Traveler for promiscuous

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The first known use of promiscuous was in 1570

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Last Updated

10 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Promiscuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for promiscuous


pro·​mis·​cu·​ous | \ prə-ˈmis-kyə-wəs How to pronounce promiscuous (audio) \

Medical Definition of promiscuous

: not restricted to one sexual partner

More from Merriam-Webster on promiscuous

Nglish: Translation of promiscuous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of promiscuous for Arabic Speakers


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