sketchy

adjective
\ 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

And what new theoretical work there is supporting this remains sketchy and incoherent. Edward Lotterman, Twin Cities, "Real World Economics: ‘Inflation is solved’? Don’t bank on it," 28 July 2019 Details of what took place Friday remained sketchy. Amir Vahdat, The Denver Post, "Iran’s seizure of UK tanker in Gulf seen as escalation," 19 July 2019 In the scandal, Alatorre, for whom Lozano had campaigned several times, admitted to a cocaine addiction and sketchy financial deals, and in the end the court ordered Alatorre into rehab and said Lozano had neglected his daughter. Los Angeles Times, "Henry Lozano, who engineered the political careers of emerging Latino leaders, dies," 18 July 2019 While details are still sketchy, evidence suggests the Mariko revision could be using a new 10nm production process (down from the original X1's 20nm process. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Evidence points to another Switch hardware revision on the horizon," 12 July 2019 The details of Ahhotep’s regency are sketchy in places (and there is still considerable confusion over her and her son’s relationship with another queen named Ahhotep II). National Geographic, "How three rebel queens of Egypt overthrew an empire and gave birth to a new kingdom," 7 Mar. 2019 Listen to your instincts and sidestep anything that appears to be sketchy. Tribune Content Agency, oregonlive.com, "Horoscope for June 22, 2019: Happy birthday Meryl Streep; Sagittarius, apply business skills to philanthropy," 22 June 2019 These gestures of racial reconciliation are touching but sketchy. Wendy Smith, BostonGlobe.com, "Not perhaps the best by a master of the troubling and thoughtful but still pretty good," 13 June 2019 For decades, researchers have known that mitochondria are derived from bacteria that became internal symbionts of archaeal cells, but details of how that happened have been sketchy. Quanta Magazine, "Researchers Rethink the Ancestry of Complex Cells," 9 Apr. 2019

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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Statistics for sketchy

Last Updated

11 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for sketchy

The first known use of sketchy was in 1805

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More Definitions for sketchy

sketchy

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of sketchy

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

sketchy

adjective
\ 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

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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