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

More often, though, it was viewed as something sinister, warranting derision. Shireen Rose Shakouri, Teen Vogue, "What You Need to Know About Nowruz, the Persian New Year Celebration," 20 Mar. 2019 But there's something more sinister beneath that stat. Marisa Lascala, Good Housekeeping, "The U.S. Divorce Rate Is Going Down, and We Have Millennials to Thank," 27 Feb. 2019 Swamps: Black mana is the most sinister of the bunch. Darren Orf, Popular Mechanics, "How to Play 'Magic: The Gathering': Everything You Need to Know," 19 Feb. 2019 Giannopoulos says there's a narrative buried in them, about a private detective and a sinister global crime cult. Monica Kendrick, Chicago Reader, "On the new Coma Noir, the Atlas Moth name our foe—and find a reason to fight," 7 Feb. 2018 The grande dame seems to have morphed at some point from an actively sinister figure into something more benign: a woman whose power and influence were benevolent forces. Sadie Stein, Town & Country, "The Revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the Evolution of the Society Grand Dame," 20 Sep. 2016 The island, in particular, has a much darker, more sinister tone now. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "Fortnite moves so fast that I’ve already forgotten about the cube," 27 Sep. 2018 The typical school shooter had evolved into someone much more sinister. Dahleen Glanton, chicagotribune.com, "No matter what type of gun is used in school shootings, innocent people end up dead," 18 May 2018 Keenan told her story to local attorney Gissel, who’d already become alarmed at the Aryan Nations’ increasingly sinister activities. Sven Berg, idahostatesman, "These churches are "hate groups," a watchdog says. But what's really behind that label?," 24 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

23 Apr 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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