pro·​vo·​ca·​teur | \prō-ˌvä-kə-ˈtər \

Definition of provocateur 

2 : one who provokes a political provocateur

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Did You Know?

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

a calculating, right-wing provocateur, she has made a career out of controversy for its own sake

Recent Examples on the Web

In the clip, the two take on Manhattan in an array of over-the-top ensembles inspired by the halcyon days of New York City nightlife (and some more contemporary fashion provocateurs, like Fecal Matter, who make a cameo in the clip). Rachel Hahn, Vogue, "FKA twigs’s New Instagram Zine Reinvents ’90s New York Club Kid Style for Today," 6 Nov. 2018 Would they be undermined by misinformation spread by misguided provocateurs or a hostile foreign power? Ron Klain, Vox, "A pandemic killing tens of millions of people is a real possibility — and we are not prepared for it," 15 Oct. 2018 Payment processing giant PayPal has cut off the account of Alex Jones—the latest in a long line of technology companies to cut ties with the radio host and online provocateur. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "PayPal bans Alex Jones, saying he “promoted hate”," 21 Sep. 2018 Tlaib came to Minneapolis to campaign for Omar at a Middle Eastern restaurant last weekend at an event that was disrupted by conservative provocateur Laura Loomer. Steve Karnowski, Fox News, "Victory offers Muslim candidate new platform to oppose Trump," 15 Aug. 2018 There's a rainbow, yellow smiley faces and a joke, etched in capital letters: Elon Musk, the provocateur and founder of electronic carmaker Tesla, thought so too. Rachel Siegel,, "Elon Musk's troubled love of a magical unicorn," 30 June 2018 Banksy, the enigmatic street artist and provocateur, intentionally sabotaged one of his famous paintings at a Sotheby's auction last week, using a paper shredder hidden in the frame to chew the canvas into bits. Sam Blum, Popular Mechanics, "Here's a Look Inside Banksy's $1.4 Million Paper Shredder," 18 Oct. 2018 In recent weeks, the issue has come to a head over online provocateur, pundit, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Op-ed: Alex Jones is a crackpot—but banning him from Facebook might be a bad idea [Updated]," 6 Aug. 2018 In Israel, she is seen by many either as a provocateur, an irritation or a threat to the military’s deterrence policy. Isaac Scharf, The Seattle Times, "2 Italian artists leave Israel after arrest over mural," 30 July 2018

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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Last Updated

2 Dec 2018

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The first known use of provocateur was in 1919

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to enclose within walls

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