\ 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

Other Words from sketchy

sketchily \ ˈske-​chə-​lē How to pronounce sketchy (audio) \ adverb
sketchiness \ ˈske-​chē-​nəs How to pronounce sketchy (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 Reports are sketchy, but safe to say Riley has been given Hope and Crosby money and property. Nick Canepa Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Dec. 2021 The developer posted the app’s terms and conditions on this very sketchy blog. Jacob Siegal, BGR, 23 Dec. 2021 The important thing here, of course, the thing that makes the movie worth seeing despite its somewhat sketchy logic and storytelling, is the presence of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 22 Dec. 2021 Seattle has some sketchy history from its early days. Lois Alter Mark, Forbes, 25 Oct. 2021 There was a lot of travel, and some of the hotels, well, some of them were pretty sketchy. Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY, 8 Apr. 2021 Welcome to the sometimes-sketchy world of online campaign fund-raising, where misdirection and misleading everyday Americans — often older Americans — to maximize clicks and cash is increasingly a dark art form. New York Times, 26 Nov. 2021 In a rollicking record and radio universe with its share of sketchy characters, Trombley prided herself on her clean way of doing business. Brian Mccollum, Detroit Free Press, 25 Nov. 2021 Unfortunately, there are many sketchy CBD options out there, so opt for a company founded in meticulous research and honesty, such as Epic Nutra. Sophie Saint Thomas, Forbes, 3 Nov. 2021

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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Dictionary Entries Near sketchy

sketch plate



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Last Updated

13 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Sketchy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

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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 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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