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 Or is something more sinister getting in ghostly touch? EW.com, 18 June 2021 Rufo and his fellow travelers hold that sinister forces are at work whenever students are exposed to real American history. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 15 June 2021 In ancient Athens, however, the owners of a 2,300-year-old ceramic jar containing the remains of a dismembered chicken appear to have used the animal for something far more sinister: a ritual designed to paralyze and kill upward of 55 people. Isis Davis-marks, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 June 2021 Delays in the qui tam process are costing us billions and the motives behind the delays may be more sinister. Walter Pavlo, Forbes, 30 May 2021 Smith’s account of his tour of Angola Prison—a former plantation where the majority of prisoners are African-American—is particularly sinister. Claire Messud, Harper's Magazine, 25 May 2021 Ilana Glazer of Broad City stars as a woman who, after a successful IVF treatment, starts to suspect that her doctor, played by Pierce Brosnan, has more sinister intentions in mind than helping her and her spouse (Justin Theroux) conceive. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, 5 June 2021 This collection represents the juxtaposition of innocent elegance and sinister sensuality. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, 3 June 2021 There is some thought that this was a sinister right-wing attempt to test and demonstrate what dark money can do. John Brummett, Arkansas Online, 1 June 2021

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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Statistics for sinister

Last Updated

22 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sinister.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sinister. Accessed 24 Jun. 2021.

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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.

More from Merriam-Webster on sinister

Nglish: Translation of sinister for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sinister for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about sinister

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