\ 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

Details in some case files appear to be sketchy, but some of the suspects are in custody without even knowing what they are accused of. Washington Post, "Russian crackdown on protesters seen as intimidation tactic," 3 Sep. 2019 Her home life can feel sketchy, despite the cheerful presence of Storm Reid as her little sis. Darren Franich,, "HBO's teen shock-soap Euphoria is sweeter than you think: EW review," 14 June 2019 Details about how guests would get to and from space hotels are sketchy. Kate Baggaley, NBC News, "Huge space hotel promises fake gravity and 'supersized basketball'," 14 Sep. 2019 But hurricane forecasters are reminding people to be aware that storm path forecasts five days out are notoriously sketchy — and could be off by 200 miles. Tonya Alanez,, "Tropical Storm Dorian bearing down on Puerto Rico," 28 Aug. 2019 But the outlines of the Ravens’ revamped offense, and Ricard’s place in it, are still sketchy. Jonas Shaffer,, "The Ravens want to ‘get medieval’ on defenses. Fullback Patrick Ricard thinks he can help.," 6 Aug. 2019 Though market share figures are sometimes sketchy, Jump had won supporters in San Antonio with its red bicycles. Bruce Selcraig,, "Uber-owned Jump exits San Antonio scooter meelee," 13 June 2019 Banks shift this stuff more quickly than in the past, but again hard data on their exposures are sketchy even for privileged observers such as ratings firms. Paul J. Davies, WSJ, "Banks and Private Markets: Making Fresh Connections," 8 Aug. 2018 After all, the primary value of note taking comes in the review of notes, and students tend to record sketchy notes. Kenneth A. Kiewra, The Conversation, "7 tips on how to take better notes," 3 Sep. 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

20 Oct 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



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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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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to be made up of

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