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 was something sinister in covering huge stretches of river at seventy miles per hour, the Columbia right alongside, wide and gleaming in the high desert flatscape. Patrick Symmes, Harper's magazine, "The $68,000 Fish," 28 Oct. 2019 And the flip in the script also allows Gyllenhaal to tap into something much more sinister. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "Spider-Man: Far From Home starts slow. Then it swings for the stars.," 27 June 2019 High-school students suspect that sinister forces are controlling their too-perfect classmates. Los Angeles Times, "Movies on TV this week Sept. 15, 2019: ‘Alien,’ ‘Aliens’ and more," 13 Sep. 2019 Johnson’s allies have noted that the current parliamentary session has lasted an unusually long three years, so to break now for a Queen’s Speech is not necessarily sinister. Fox News, "'Bumbling' Boris Johnson shows his ruthless streak with dramatic step closer to sealing Brexit," 29 Aug. 2019 The music is sinister, the lighting sometimes quite dark. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, "Free Meek and the Tricky Role of Celebrity Activism," 9 Aug. 2019 The ancient cries of media bias have morphed into something more sinister. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "The Boundless Grift of Right-Wing Media Watchdogs," 4 Sep. 2019 By the 1880s, elite American newspapers, including The New York Times, saw a sinister plot afoot. David Vernette, Smithsonian, "When an Influx of French-Canadian Immigrants Struck Fear Into Americans," 21 Aug. 2019 The app is popular because making and sharing such clips is fun, but some Western observers’ thoughts turned to something more sinister. Wired, "Forget Politics. For Now, Deepfakes Are for Bullies," 4 Sep. 2019

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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Time Traveler for sinister

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for sinister

Last Updated

19 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Sinister.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sinister. Accessed 22 November 2019.

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More Definitions for sinister

sinister

adjective
How to pronounce sinister (audio)

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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