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

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

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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 The slasher subgenre has conservative moralistic underpinnings — its medium is violent punishment after all, and many of its victims have been promiscuous women. Los Angeles Times, "Novelist Stephen Graham Jones would never let a dead elk or a horror trope go to waste," 8 Apr. 2021 The disease’s capriciousness ends up doling out tangy, ironic reversals, such as when a mostly chaste character meets his demise before the promiscuous ones do. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "It’s a Sin and the Ritual of AIDS Fiction," 11 Mar. 2021 This promiscuous nature means that fungi grow rooms must be kept sterile to avoid cultivating unwanted crops, a condition that lends itself well to a pandemic. New York Times, "The Mushrooms Will Survive Us," 7 Feb. 2021 To some ears, Doblin’s rhetoric about ending genocide and enlightening humanity through widespread use harkens back to Leary, the Harvard professor whose promiscuous dispensation of LSD led to his firing in 1963. Ben Harris,, "Jewish psychedelics advocate working to turn club drug into legal medicine," 19 Nov. 2020 Carrie Buck, Virginia resident, had been deemed promiscuous after she was raped by a nephew of her foster family. Kate Baggaley, Popular Science, "America has a long history of forced sterilization," 18 Sep. 2020 Many are promiscuous, meaning that males and females mate with multiple partners. National Geographic, "Flying squirrels," 21 Aug. 2020 But ostriches in breeding season are relentlessly promiscuous, with both males and females seeking liaisons with multiple partners. National Geographic, "They may look goofy, but ostriches are nobody’s fool," 4 Aug. 2020 The Trump administration’s unnecessary and promiscuous trade fights with Europe, public goading of its leaders, and denigration of NATO are purely negative. Mark Helprin, National Review, "American Foreign and Defense Policy: Between Scylla and Charybdis," 16 Apr. 2020

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of promiscuous was in 1570

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Statistics for promiscuous

Last Updated

16 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Promiscuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for promiscuous



English Language Learners Definition of promiscuous

: having or involving many sexual partners
formal : including or involving too many people or things : not limited in a careful or proper way


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

Medical Definition of promiscuous

: not restricted to one sexual partner

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