sinister

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

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

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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

There is something sinister and corrupt—Maoist—in the habit of assigning people to categories. Lance Morrow, WSJ, "America Is Addicted to Outrage. Is There a Cure?," 30 Nov. 2018 In the series, another mystery of unraveling the twisted dynamics between Adams’ Preaker, mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen) proves to be more sinister and calculated than many may have presumed. Lexy Perez, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Sharp Objects' Premiere: Stars Talk Honoring the Silently Wounded, Embracing Female Empowerment," 27 June 2018 And there are companies who send armies of players into battle in hopes of capturing the lucrative company and, in the most sinister of anti-nerd plots, open up Oasis to advertising. Jake Coyle, kansascity, "Spielberg romps through the past in ‘Ready Player One’ | The Kansas City Star," 28 Mar. 2018 These questions might be annoying, but the rhetoric around Muslims in America often is much more sinister. Nadra Widatalla, Teen Vogue, "Why Ramadan Is Important to Me in an Islamophobic America," 7 May 2019 And later this month in Suspiria, a remake of the 1977 classic, Dakota Johnson will add a cascade of Pre-Raphaelite auburn lengths into the mix, playing a young student at an equal parts prestigious and sinister dance company. Calin Van Paris, Vogue, "The 19 Most Beautiful Horror Movie Heroines—Just in Time for Halloween," 10 Oct. 2018 Their presence heralds an eerie global takeover, a world in which the worst-case scenario looks just like us—only more sinister. Candice Frederick, Harper's BAZAAR, "Us Offers a Terrifying Vision of Judgement Day," 26 Mar. 2019 Not all were as amused by the gift, and suggested Putin could be using it for sinister motives. Alex Pappas, Fox News, "Putin gives Trump a World Cup soccer ball, tells him 'now the ball is in your court'," 16 July 2018 There are, however, concerns that someone might have more sinister motives in the future, Robbins said. Kate Mather, latimes.com, "Thieves find siren song irresistible as another ambulance is stolen in L.A., the 2nd in a week," 9 Apr. 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 5

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

4 Jun 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 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.

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Comments on sinister

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