scin·​til·​la sin-ˈti-lə How to pronounce scintilla (audio)
: spark, trace
not a scintilla of doubt

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Scintilla comes directly from Latin, where it carries the meaning of "spark" - that is, a bright flash such as you might see from a burning ember. In English, however, our use of "scintilla" is restricted to the figurative sense of "spark" - a hint or trace of something that barely suggests its presence. The Latin scintilla is related to the verb "scintillare," which means "to sparkle" and is responsible for our verb "scintillate" ("to sparkle or gleam," literally or figuratively). In an odd twist, "scintilla" underwent a transposition of the "c" and the "t" (a linguistic phenomenon known as metathesis) to create the Vulgar Latin form stincilla, which is believed to be an ancestor of our word stencil.

Examples of scintilla in a Sentence

there is not a scintilla of evidence for your outrageous claims
Recent Examples on the Web Under the old law, the guardian of the person could handle only small amounts of the ward’s funds, which meant that if the ward had more than a scintilla of money, then the court had to appoint a guardian of the estate. Virginia Hammerle, Dallas News, 13 Aug. 2023 There is not a scintilla of evidence supporting the scandalous allegations that the Church harassed the accusers. Ethan Millman, Rolling Stone, 31 May 2023 There’s not a scintilla of heat between any of the couples. David Benedict, Variety, 26 May 2023 All of those claims, statements, suggestions were absent a scintilla of truth. Elizabeth Koh,, 12 Apr. 2023 Neither man has been touched by a scintilla of culture. Joseph Epstein,, 2 May 2023 Abe Fortas had to leave the Supreme Court for a scintilla of the poor judgment Clarence Thomas routinely demonstrates. Globe Staff,, 7 Apr. 2023 There is not a scintilla of evidence that a witch hunt exists right now. James Freeman, WSJ, 25 Nov. 2022 ProPublica and Vanity Fair published a towering assertion about sinister doings at a Chinese research lab without offering a scintilla of evidence. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 1 Nov. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'scintilla.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



First Known Use

1661, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of scintilla was in 1661


Dictionary Entries Near scintilla

Cite this Entry

“Scintilla.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Legal Definition


scin·​til·​la sin-ˈti-lə How to pronounce scintilla (audio)
: a small trace or barely perceptible amount of something (as evidence supporting a position)
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