sketchier; sketchiest
: of the nature of a sketch : roughly outlined
: wanting in completeness, clearness, or substance : slight, superficial
the details are sketchy
: questionable, iffy
got into a sketchy situation
a sketchy character
sketchily adverb
sketchiness noun

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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 For the living there remain pockets of indulgence, including a decadent underground nightclub complete with a drag performer, run by Isabelle’s sketchy old friend Quinn (Adam Nagaitis). Chris Vognar, Rolling Stone, 10 Sep. 2023 Our knowledge of ancient Greek theater practice is sketchy, despite centuries of scholarly research. Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times, 8 Sep. 2023 The neighborhood was so sketchy the firm provided guards to walk employees to the Metro after 5 p.m. The neighborhood blossomed around them. John Kelly, Washington Post, 31 July 2023 Lipman-Stern began working at a phone center as a high-school dropout in the early 2000s, placing fundraising calls for sketchy charities while working for a company called Civic Development Group, or CDG. Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times, 28 Aug. 2023 Details are sketchy, but Prigozhin is believed to have been aboard an Embraer business jet flying from Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport to St. Petersburg, according to CNBC, citing a report from TASS, a Russian state media outlet. George Petras, USA TODAY, 23 Aug. 2023 The color scheme and sketchy markings carry over to the interior of the vehicle, which is otherwise the same that can be found on other versions of the car. Bryan Hood, Robb Report, 21 Aug. 2023 Get Quanta Magazine delivered to your inbox Introduction Until recently, embryo models bore only a sketchy resemblance to real embryos, and then only at the very earliest stages of growth. Philip Ball, Quanta Magazine, 13 June 2023 This is your way to try to reach someone in an emergency, though signals can be sketchy in remote areas. Mike Brehm, USA TODAY, 3 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sketchy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1805, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sketchy was in 1805

Dictionary Entries Near sketchy

Cite this Entry

“Sketchy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


sketchier; sketchiest
: of the nature of a sketch : roughly outlined
: lacking completeness, clearness, or substance : slight, vague
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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