sinister

adjective
sin·​is·​ter | \ ˈsi-nə-stər How to pronounce sinister (audio) , archaic sə-ˈni- \

Essential Meaning of sinister

: having an evil appearance : looking likely to cause something bad, harmful, or dangerous to happen There was something sinister about him. He looked sinister. sinister black clouds

Full Definition of sinister

1 : singularly evil or productive of evil
2 : accompanied by or leading to disaster
3 : presaging ill fortune or trouble
4a : of, relating to, or situated to the left or on the left side of something especially : being or relating to the side of a heraldic shield at the left of the person bearing it
b : of ill omen by reason of being on the left
5 archaic : unfavorable, unlucky
6 archaic : fraudulent

Other Words from sinister

sinisterly adverb
sinisterness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for sinister

sinister, baleful, malign mean seriously threatening evil or disaster. sinister suggests a general or vague feeling of fear or apprehension on the part of the observer. a sinister aura haunts the place baleful imputes perniciousness or destructiveness to something whether working openly or covertly. exerting a corrupt and baleful influence malign applies to what is inherently evil or harmful. the malign effects of racism

insidious, sinister, or pernicious?

Few would choose to be associated with people or things that are insidious, sinister, or pernicious; all three of these words have decidedly unpleasant meanings, each with its own particular shade of nastiness.

Insidious comes from a Latin word for “ambush” (insidiae), which is fitting, as this word often carries the meanings “deceitful,” “stealthy,” or “harmful in an imperceptible fashion.” The first two meanings may be applied to people or things (“an insidious enemy,” “an insidious plot”), while the last is usually applied to things (“insidious problems,” “insidious sexism”), in particular to the gradual progress of a disease (“an insidious malignancy”).

Sinister comes from a Latin word meaning “on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious.” Although it is commonly used today in the sense “evil” (“a sinister cult leader”; “a sinister plot”), it may also suggest an ominous foreshadowing of some unfavorable turn of events (“a sinister omen”).

Pernicious has largely stayed true to its etymological root, the Latin noun pernicies “ruin, destruction.” Its original meaning in English, “highly injurious or destructive,” usually applies to things (“pernicious apathy,” “pernicious effects”) and medical conditions (“pernicious fever,” “pernicious anemia”). When applied to people, pernicious means “wicked.”

Is sinister unfair to the left-handed?

Sinister has an etymology that might seem a bit biased against the left-handed portion of the population, as this word, which has had naught but disagreeable meanings for over five hundred years now, comes from a Latin word of the same spelling that means “on the left side.” We find this root in other English words, such as the adjective sinistral (“left-handed”) and the adverb sinistrad (“toward the left side”). To make things even more unfair, the Latin word dexter (“on the right side”) has given rise to English words with largely positive meanings, such as dexterity and ambidextrous.

Examples of sinister in a Sentence

There was something sinister about him. the movie relies too much on sinister background music to create the suspense that the plot sorely lacks
Recent Examples on the Web Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? New York Times, 23 Dec. 2021 That misses the point entirely, because dynamic performance, a lower stance, and sinister good looks are the very things that define any GTS. Dan Edmunds, Car and Driver, 14 Dec. 2021 Something else, something even sinister is at work in her relationship and understanding of blackness. Peter Rubin, Longreads, 2 Dec. 2021 Hero’s poison, meanwhile, is decidedly subtler and thus far more sinister. Devon Maloney, Vulture, 21 Sep. 2021 However, the town and its residents start to become far more sinister as time goes on. Katie Campione, PEOPLE.com, 13 Aug. 2021 But dispersed throughout are moments that are more sinister. Mary Cadden, USA TODAY, 30 Nov. 2021 No doubt, supply-chain issues have contributed to inflationary pressures, but the official commentary ignores a bigger, more sinister story. Milton Ezrati, Forbes, 12 Dec. 2021 Praying transforms their simple creations into something more sinister, perverse, and wanted. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, 30 Nov. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sinister.' 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 sinister

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sinister

Middle English sinistre, from Anglo-French senestre on the left, from Latin sinistr-, sinister on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious

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Time Traveler for sinister

Time Traveler

The first known use of sinister was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near sinister

sinify

sinister

sinister base point

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Last Updated

17 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Sinister.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sinister. Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for sinister

sinister

adjective
sin·​is·​ter | \ ˈsi-nəs-tər How to pronounce sinister (audio) \

Kids Definition of sinister

1 : threatening evil, harm, or danger We heard sinister rumors.
2 : evil entry 1 sense 1, corrupt We feared he would do something far more sinister.

More from Merriam-Webster on sinister

Nglish: Translation of sinister for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sinister for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about sinister

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