sinister

adjective
sin·​is·​ter | \ ˈsi-nə-stər, archaic sə-ˈni-\

Definition of sinister

1 archaic : unfavorable, unlucky
2 archaic : fraudulent
3 : singularly evil or productive of evil
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 : presaging ill fortune or trouble
6 : accompanied by or leading to disaster

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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

Shipka deserves a great deal of credit for her slyly subversive performance as Sabrina, keeping her character poised on the knife-edge between sinister and likable. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina," 18 Dec. 2018 Edward Speleers portrays Bonnet as self-aware and subtly sinister. Outlander Fan, Marie Claire, "5 Biggest Takeaways From 'Outlander' Season 4 Episode 7," 17 Dec. 2018 Their spirits are then removed from their bodies, which, in turn, are operated by sinister beings for battles. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s spirits mode turns Nintendo’s fighter into an RPG," 6 Dec. 2018 There’s very little movement (save for puttering around Ivy House and its sinister overgrown garden) and much internal speculation. Maureen Corrigan, The Seattle Times, "Fans of Tana French are in for a surprise with ‘The Witch Elm’," 23 Oct. 2018 Somehow, the Philadelphia Flyers had conjured a sinister children’s television character straight out of a creepypasta, turned it into their mascot, and then set it loose on the internet. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "Gritty’s evolution from googly-eyed hockey mascot to meme to leftist avatar, explained," 24 Dec. 2018 The cinematography by Matthew Libatique (Black Swan) is moody and sinister, a beautiful foundation for the body horror that emerges once Eddie is infected. Bryan Bishop, The Verge, "Venom is a bizarre and baffling mess," 3 Oct. 2018 Charlton Heston led a big cast including James Stewart as a mysterious (but not sinister) clown. Joy Wallace Dickinson, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Keep cool with movies linked to Florida’s past," 8 July 2018 This entire issue offers a glimpse into a larger, more sinister problem in Hollywood, the media and our country alike: the consistent dismissal of the accomplishments of women of color—especially plus-size women of color. Allison Mcgevna, Glamour, "Rebel Wilson, Your Rom-Com Comments Erased Plus-Size Women of Color," 5 Nov. 2018

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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Last Updated

15 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for sinister

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

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More Definitions for sinister

sinister

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of sinister

: having an evil appearance : looking likely to cause something bad, harmful, or dangerous to happen

sinister

adjective
sin·​is·​ter | \ ˈsi-nəs-tər \

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.

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