\ 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

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,, "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,, "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 While Gilead’s back story remains sketchy, the art direction and costume design make the world feel immediately realized. James Poniewozik, New York Times, "Review: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2 Moves Into a Dark Future," 23 Apr. 2018 Totally sketched out Get yourself into a sketchy situation at the Story Arc Sketch Comedy Fest kicking off this Thursday, June 1 at 8 p.m. The two-week fest, which runs through June 10, will combine the worlds of sketch and theater. Rianne Coale, RedEye Chicago, "5 things to do in Chicago this weekend," 1 June 2017 It's called the Quad9 Domain Name System (DNS) service, and it is designed to protect Internet users from accessing sketchy websites that are known for spreading malware, stealing personal information and fraudulent activity. Kim Komando, USA TODAY, "Do it now! Protect your router from Russian hackers," 18 May 2018 Player had swashbuckled his way to a four-stroke lead after 54 holes, but a sketchy back nine on Monday (play had been washed out on Sunday), including a seven at the par-five 13th, had handed Palmer the initiative. CNN, "Gary Player: 'Even if I was blind, I would know exactly where I was'," 2 Apr. 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

14 Jul 2019

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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
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

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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