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

Recent Examples on the Web Zhao Lijian, a ministry spokesman and licensed provocateur on social media, said the report exposed the hypocrisy of Western concerns about human rights. The Economist, "Chaguan How China’s bullying could backfire," 5 Dec. 2020 For Russia, long a provocateur in the broader Caucasus region, the peacemaker role is a switch — a new test and opportunity for a country struggling to maintain its influence in the former Soviet lands. New York Times, "In Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Deal, Putin Applied a Deft New Touch," 1 Dec. 2020 Domini will continue to carry on as the provocateur, building, inspiring, and innovating the impact investing community long after I am gone. Saijel Kishan,, "Climate, Not Elections, Will Move Markets Soon, Says ESG Pioneer," 19 Oct. 2020 That is a mission very much in line with North Korea’s provocateur playbook. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Satellite Images Suggest North Korea Is Training Kamikaze Dolphins," 17 Nov. 2020 While the remark could be interpreted as hoping that Biden would be elected and promote the agenda of his party’s progressive wing, Cabello has a reputation for being a provocateur and saying unclear things on purpose, according to Acosta-Ramos. Jeremy B. Merrill, ProPublica, "Trump Won Florida After Running a False Ad Tying Biden to Venezuelan Socialists," 15 Nov. 2020 The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a far-right provocateur and misogynist who also co-founded the Vice media brand. Ben Sales,, "A Proud Boys leader is trying to rebrand the group as explicitly white supremacist and anti-Semitic," 11 Nov. 2020 However, some in Borough Park view Tischler as not just a clown or a provocateur but as a kind of guardian of the community. Zach Helfand, The New Yorker, "“We Don’t Protest”: Borough Park’s Mask-Burning Demonstrators," 1 Nov. 2020 Deeply cynical, bordering on nihilistic, the Mexican provocateur's incendiary revolution drama has a lot to say and says it in an unrelentingly grim way. Thomas Page, CNN, "TIFF 2020 kicks off a strange start to the Oscars race," 18 Sep. 2020

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

23 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Provocateur.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

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