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 Freudianism just offers you so much, and there’s this whole idea—like in The Lathe of Heaven—that psychologists or therapists are sinister. Geek's Guide To The Galaxy, WIRED, "Why Aren’t There More Sci-Fi Movies About Dreams?," 20 Nov. 2020 Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man is familiar territory for Burke, who has an uncanny knack for explaining how easily otherwise decent people can be seduced into serving sinister forces. Chris Gray, ExpressNews.com, "Review: Evil is afoot in James Lee Burke’s bayou country," 7 Aug. 2020 But as one hour turned into two, two turned into four, and four turned into nine, doctors told the Davises the glint in their 10-month-old daughter’s left eye was the telltale sign of something sinister. Cancer. Amie Just | Staff Writer, NOLA.com, "Demario Davis' daughter lost her eye to cancer. This is how it changed the Saints LB and his family.," 29 Oct. 2020 For Thais, his four-year-old reign has been more sinister. The Economist, "Thailand’s king seeks to bring back absolute monarchy," 14 Oct. 2020 Elle Lorraine plays a young Black woman whose new expensive straight hair has demonic roots and sinister intentions. Erik Piepenburg, New York Times, "A Guide to New Horror Movies This Month," 7 Oct. 2020 The Universal Purpose of a Company in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a document of laughable bombast, but sinister implications. Andrew Stuttaford, National Review, "A Useful Pandemic: Davos Launches New ‘Reset,’ this Time on the Back of COVID," 29 Oct. 2020 The earliest known Near Eastern cremation, of a young person with moderate arthritis and a fragment of flint lodged in the sinister scapular spine, was dated to around 7000 bc. Rafil Kroll-zaidi, Harper's Magazine, "Findings," 27 Oct. 2020 Lyra uncovers a sinister plot that sends her on a journey to find her father in hopes of foiling said plot. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "BBC drops new trailer and featurette for the upcoming His Dark Materials S2," 26 Oct. 2020

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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Last Updated

24 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sinister.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sinister. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

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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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