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

Definition of provocateur

2 : one who provokes a political provocateur

Keep scrolling for more

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

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 The provocateur, once one of the most prominent far-right voices in the country, lost his access to major conservative platforms in early 2017 after some comments that seemed to endorse pedophilia came to light. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "Milo Yiannopoulos’s collapse shows that no-platforming can work," 5 Dec. 2018 The Pulitzer-winning columnist, Harvard Medical School graduate and intellectual provocateur left a legacy of acerbic and prolific commentary that helped shape decades of public opinion in Washington and the rest of the world. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Under Trump, Americans are becoming more supportive of immigration," 22 June 2018 At the same time, Roth was a provocateur from the beginning, in the sense that all essential artists are. David L. Ulin,, "Philip Roth, a provocateur whose candor seared even as it reflected the American story," 23 May 2018 For a provocateur, a person more interested in attention-grabbing than serious intellectual work, that’s a death sentence. Bijan Stephen, The Verge, "Death of a provocateur," 30 Nov. 2018 Before this, Gaga was seen as a shock-and-awe pop provocateur whose skill took a backseat to spectacle. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "Lady Gaga Didn't Need A Star Is Born to Be Taken Seriously," 28 Sep. 2018 In Israel, Tamimi is seen as a provocateur who was rightly punished for attacking soldiers. Mohammed Daraghmeh, Fox News, "Palestinian teen icon says she has a 'political future'," 31 July 2018 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

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.

See More

First Known Use of provocateur

1919, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about provocateur

Share provocateur

Listen to Our Podcast about provocateur

Dictionary Entries near provocateur








Statistics for provocateur

Last Updated

11 Mar 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for provocateur

The first known use of provocateur was in 1919

See more words from the same year

More from Merriam-Webster on provocateur

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with provocateur

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for provocateur

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).


to corrupt or become corrupted

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A Green Quiz

  • shamrock
  • What is the best definition of green-eyed monster?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!