\ˈske-chē \
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 \ adverb
sketchiness \ ˈske-​chē-​nəs \ 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

While the details of the company’s efforts remain sketchy, the trio announced last week that surgeon and public health expert Atul Gawande will be its CEO. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Amazon buying online pharmacy with nationwide reach; drug store stocks dive," 28 June 2018 The arrest reports are sketchy by any measure, listing no witnesses, fingerprint evidence, confessions or even property stolen. Charles Rabin, Jay Weaver And David Ovalle, miamiherald, "The chief wanted perfect stats, so cops were told to pin crimes on blacks, probe found," 12 July 2018 Details are sketchy, but the children, sisters under the age of 5, were found outside a residence by their mother. Hunter Woodall And Lynn Horsley, kansascity, "2 young children found dead in Clay County," 4 July 2018 Lodging properties are few here, most with a kitschy, often sketchy, vibe, so visit or seek a vacation rental. Natasha Bourlin,, "Increasingly hip Midtown Reno has a glow that’s not from neon," 29 June 2018 Details are sketchy, but the aim is to plug into the internet cables beneath the Red Sea and create a hub for innovation, powered by renewable energy. The Economist, "Breaking the curseWhy Gulf economies struggle to wean themselves off oil," 21 June 2018 My love of travel, adventure, and family is too great to forgo travel, despite body checks in sketchy storage rooms. Denise Teter,, "For a colorectal cancer survivor on IV nutrition, airport security is another hurdle to vault," 11 July 2018 Defense attorneys say their clients often make decisions on a plea with only a sketchy knowledge of the witnesses against them. New York Times, "Manhattan District Attorney Demands Access to Police Records," 8 July 2018 There is, however, still far less enthusiasm for hard-charging smaller banks, which have a sketchier asset mix and a much weaker deposit base. The Economist, "China’s tighter regulation of shadow banks begins to bite," 14 June 2018

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

3 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for sketchy

The first known use of sketchy was in 1805

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More Definitions for sketchy



English Language Learners Definition of sketchy

: not complete or clear

: done quickly without many details

: likely to be bad or dangerous


\ˈske-chē \
sketchier; sketchiest

Kids Definition of sketchy

1 : roughly outlined

2 : lacking completeness or clearness a sketchy description

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Comments on sketchy

What made you want to look up sketchy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


something that serves to warn or remind

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