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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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

Israeli critics paint them as provocateurs and even actors, with a subcommittee of the parliament launching an investigation in 2015 into whether the family was real or actors. Loveday Morris, Washington Post, "How a Palestinian teen’s rubber-bullet injury to the brain turned to a biking accident overnight," 27 Feb. 2018 Even after last year's blockbuster retrospective at The Whitney (the first in the United States since 1989), there's still more to uncover about the late provocateur and society fixture, and plenty of important work to see. Liz Cantrell, Town & Country, "Andy Warhol Fans Have Two New Must-See Shows," 25 Apr. 2019 Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and conservative provocateur Laura Loomer, both of whom have been banned from Twitter for violating its terms of service, have complained that the social media company is out to get them. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Rudy Giuliani’s bizarre Twitter conspiracy theory, explained," 5 Dec. 2018 What this episode shows is that under the right circumstances, the controversial no-platforming tactics — which range from activists noisily disrupting speeches to big tech corporations banning provocateurs from their platforms — really can work. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "Milo Yiannopoulos’s collapse shows that no-platforming can work," 5 Dec. 2018 Former Representative Ellen Tauscher, a Northern California Democrat, said Mr. Steyer had plainly embraced a provocateur’s role instead of putting his name on the ballot this year. Alexander Burns, New York Times, "A Billionaire Keeps Pushing to Impeach Trump. Democrats Are Rattled.," 23 Jan. 2018 Kat Von D, the tattoo artist turned beauty founder, has a long history as a provocateur. Cheryl Wischhover, Vox, "The biggest beauty trend in 2018? Makeup brands behaving badly," 18 Dec. 2018 In Israel, Tamimi is seen as a provocateur who was rightly punished for attacking soldiers. Mohammed Daraghmeh, The Seattle Times, "Palestinian teen icon says she has a ‘political future’," 30 July 2018 More in Politics In many ways, the ACA and health policy were natural targets for the provocateurs. Paul Overberg, WSJ, "Nearly 600 Russia-Linked Accounts Tweeted About the Health Law," 12 Sep. 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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Statistics for provocateur

Last Updated

20 May 2019

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Time Traveler for provocateur

The first known use of provocateur was in 1919

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Comments on provocateur

What made you want to look up provocateur? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a strong desire or propensity

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