\ 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 Although many details of Bologne’s life are sketchy, history has hardly forgotten him — just ignored him, or at least his music. Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, "Review: At L.A. and Long Beach operas, the pandemic gives young talent a spotlight," 16 Nov. 2020 Details were sketchy on juveniles who were detained on suspicion of underage drinking around 9:20 p.m. on Oct. 24. Thomas Jewell, cleveland, "Rescue squad called in for double duty after knee surgery: Moreland Hills Police Blotter," 31 Oct. 2020 Early in the film their son James (Ryan Bruce) dies, and his widow, Lorna (Carter) marries a sketchy man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, "Why the Kevin Cosnter-Diane Lane thriller 'Let Him Go' is more strange than serious," 2 Nov. 2020 That Ali was easy prey for con artists and sketchy investment schemes is a recurring theme of his brother’s book and, perhaps, a sign of his growing spirituality following his conversion to Islam. Tim Sullivan, The Courier-Journal, "Muhammad Ali's brother shares a few new details about The Greatest," 31 Oct. 2020 The president and his allies have spent the last few weeks flogging the notion that Biden is a crime lord masquerading as a politician, accusing the former vice president and his son, Hunter, of sketchy deals involving an array of foreign countries. Joel Mathis, TheWeek, "Trump is blatantly corrupt," 30 Oct. 2020 But the organization and its affiliates have grown, in part, by relying on sketchy social media tactics, pushing dangerous conspiracy theories and downplaying their connection to Falun Gong, an investigation by The Times has found. Kevin Roose, New York Times, "How The Epoch Times Created a Giant Influence Machine," 24 Oct. 2020 Independent intelligence experts say the sketchy evidence, and the timing so close to the election, suggest a Russian disinformation tactic that Trump is amplifying. Todd J. Gillman, Dallas News, "Watch Live: Trump and Biden clash in final bid to change the trajectory," 23 Oct. 2020 The President brought up the new evidence that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter traded on his father's name to court sketchy Chinese investors. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Biden’s Character Debate," 23 Oct. 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

20 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sketchy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Nov. 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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