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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Eddie Jacks: nicknamed for a character on the old TV melodrama Peyton Place—a sinister character, which didn’t fit Ed in the least. Earl Swift, Outside Online, "The Incredible True Story of the Henrietta C.," 20 June 2018 One of the oddities of the Russia scandal is that many of the most exotic and sinister theories have come from people within government and especially within the intelligence field. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler?," 8 July 2018 The Templars have also been widely revived and imitated for purposes both benign and sinister since at least 1737, when the Scottish Freemason Andrew Michael Ramsey wrote a pseudo-history of Masonry that claimed ties to the medieval Templars. Kristina Krug, Smithsonian, "Meet the Americans Following in the Footsteps of the Knights Templar," 28 June 2018 If at first the couples’ clash plays out as a comedy of misunderstanding, the show soon takes a more sinister and surreal turn. Lily Janiak, SFChronicle.com, "Hitler-themed ‘In Braunau’ at SF Playhouse tortures characters and audience," 25 June 2018 This project for the inculcation of proper human feelings through behavioral technique is either sinister or idiotic. Chris Stirewalt, Fox News, "A good offense may be best defense for House GOP," 25 June 2018 On his 48th birthday, Phil Mickelson might have outsmarted himself, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau came from 11 shots behind to share the third-round lead, and the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills turned slightly sideways and sinister. Ron Green Jr., charlotteobserver, "Course … and perhaps Phil Mickelson … go over the edge in wild U.S. Open third round," 16 June 2018 But no more: These days, there are plenty of psychological thrillers to pick from — many of them more sinister and more spine-chilling than Big Little Lies or even The Shining. refinery29.com, "If You Liked Gone Girl, You'll Love These Suspense Thrillers," 13 June 2018 In 2016, while Joe was trying to get on with his life, creepy clowns, evil clowns and sinister clowns were suddenly everywhere—in the new, on social media, and the following year, on the big screen. CBS News, "Can new DNA tests help police crack the "killer clown" cold case?," 21 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about sinister

Statistics for sinister

Last Updated

8 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for sinister

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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.

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on sinister

What made you want to look up sinister? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

required by fashion, etiquette, or custom

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!