\ ˈske-chē How to pronounce sketchy (audio) \
sketchier; sketchiest

Definition of sketchy

1 : of the nature of a sketch : roughly outlined
2 : wanting in completeness, clearness, or substance : slight, superficial the details are sketchy
3 : questionable, iffy got into a sketchy situation a sketchy character

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Other Words from sketchy

sketchily \ ˈske-​chə-​lē How to pronounce sketchily (audio) \ adverb
sketchiness \ ˈske-​chē-​nəs How to pronounce sketchiness (audio) \ noun

The Varied Meanings of Sketchy

A sketch is a rough drawing usually done as an initial draft in contrast to a finished work. The word sketch suggests imperfection and a lack of refinement. It comes from the Dutch word schets and ultimately from the Italian verb schizzare, an imitative verb meaning "to splash."

Unsurprisingly, the adjective sketchy originally described something relating to or resembling a sketch, as in "a sketchy portrait." But because sketches are by nature rough and ill-defined, sketchy soon came to mean "wanting in completeness, clearness, or substance," as in "a sketchy understanding" or "sketchy details."

What lacks completeness, clearness, or substance is also subject to doubt or challenge, and sketchy went on to develop uses applying to what is questionable or iffy, either for physically obvious qualities or for something less tangible. In sports we see this sense of sketchy applied to a track or surface that is poorly maintained, as in "a sketchy track," and in broader use it is applied to streets and neighborhoods that can also be described as seedy, as in "a sketchy part of town."

The adjective has more recently extended in use to describe someone who creates an impression of unsavoriness, or something that comes from an untrustworthy source or is itself untrustworthy, as in "a sketchy dude" or "a scheme that sounds sketchy."

Examples of sketchy in a Sentence

The details about the accident are still a little sketchy. I have only a sketchy idea of how it works.
Recent Examples on the Web Smyth took practical steps to remedy the more obviously dubious aspects of Taylor’s work, as well as to elaborate on those places where its details were particularly sketchy. Jimmy Maher, Ars Technica, "How alternative Egyptology and scientific archaeology were born on the Giza Plateau," 15 Mar. 2020 And, while data is still sketchy, some measurements indicate that its fatality rate might be close to that of the 1918 Spanish flu. New York Times, "To Take On the Coronavirus, Go Medieval on It," 28 Feb. 2020 But his treatment of On Photography is sketchy at best. Michael Gorra, The New York Review of Books, "Young Woman from the Provinces," 11 Feb. 2020 This sketchy picture of the virus's current spread is the best current gauge of what to expect next. Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, "How to Understand Your State’s Coronavirus Numbers," 12 Mar. 2020 But the retail giant is confronting more than just an influx of sketchy coronavirus supplies. Louise Matsakis, Wired, "Amazon Quietly Removes Some Dubious Coronavirus Books," 11 Mar. 2020 Even the businessman who instigated the investigation conceded that the cast of characters police used to build their case was a sketchy lot. oregonlive, "‘Shady’ witnesses, sloppy work undercut controversial West Linn police investigation of black Portland man, records reveal," 29 Feb. 2020 Like the California Gold Rush, the dot-com boom and every other new market with boundless potential, the cannabis industry also has the tendency to attract some sketchy characters with dubious motives. Alicia Wallace, CNN, "The cannabis industry's next big threat: Hacks and fraud," 20 Feb. 2020 Bernard’s book traces the sketchy historical information about West and notes that no photos of detailed descriptions and few original documents about her exist. Don Maines Correspondent, Houston Chronicle, "Writer to discuss facts, myths about ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’," 12 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sketchy.' 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 sketchy

1805, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for sketchy

Time Traveler

The first known use of sketchy was in 1805

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Statistics for sketchy

Last Updated

6 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sketchy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for sketchy


How to pronounce sketchy (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of sketchy

: not complete or clear
: done quickly without many details
US, informal : likely to be bad or dangerous


\ ˈske-chē How to pronounce sketchy (audio) \
sketchier; sketchiest

Kids Definition of sketchy

1 : roughly outlined
2 : lacking completeness or clearness a sketchy description

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More from Merriam-Webster on sketchy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sketchy

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sketchy

Spanish Central: Translation of sketchy

Nglish: Translation of sketchy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sketchy for Arabic Speakers

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