pro·​vo·​ca·​teur | \ prō-ˌvä-kə-ˈtər How to pronounce provocateur (audio) \

Definition of provocateur

2 : one who provokes a political provocateur

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In "provocateur," a word borrowed directly from French, one sees the English verb "provoke." Both "provoke" and "provocateur" derive from Latin provocare, meaning "to call forth." Why do we say "provocateur" for one who incites another to action, instead of simply "provoker"? Perhaps it's because of "agent provocateur," a term of French origin that literally means "provoking agent." Both "agent provocateur" and the shortened "provocateur" can refer to someone (such as an undercover police officer or a political operative) whose job is to incite people to break the law so that they can be arrested, but only "provocateur" is used in English with the more general sense of "one who provokes."

Examples of provocateur in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web His work as a right-wing provocateur predates his capitalist career. Michael Taylor, San Antonio Express-News, 12 Jan. 2022 But while beloved by many New Zealanders, Channell views himself as a provocateur and so has made myriad comments over the years that caused offense. oregonlive, 27 Dec. 2021 Far-right provocateur Jacob Wohl posted on Gab that all American Jews should be required to put up Christmas lights, because America is a Christian country. Kathryn Joyce, The New Republic, 6 Jan. 2022 The far-right provocateur Éric Zemmour, who announced his bid for the presidency last month, has also taken a hard line against coronavirus containment measures. Washington Post, 4 Jan. 2022 This focus on the individual recurs in Bowers’ video portraits of activists like Malian singer Fantani Touré, who agitated against genital cutting, environmental provocateur Tim DeChristopher, and Emma Goldman, the anarchist and free-love pioneer. Lori Waxman,, 18 Dec. 2021 This is now a baseline position in conservative media: that the insurrectionists were citizens exercising their basic constitutional rights, only to be set up by the Deep State and various agents provocateur, persecuted as political prisoners. Nicole Hemmer, CNN, 16 Dec. 2021 But there’s also Harlem legend Dapper Dan and Viennese provocateur Rudi Gernreich (inventor of the thong), more attention to African and Asian fashion and space for younger designers such as Grace Wales Bonner and Luke Sabbat. Alexander Freeling, Robb Report, 24 Nov. 2021 Rodrigo, Batiste, Doja Cat, Eilish and Bieber are all nominated for Album of the Year and Record of the Year honors, as is proudly gay rapper and pop culture provocateur Lil Nas X. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 Nov. 2021

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

1919, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of provocateur was in 1919

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Last Updated

22 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Provocateur.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.

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