\ 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

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 The leftist leader could face strong domestic opposition if he is seen as kowtowing to Mr. Trump in implementing the plan, details of which remain sketchy. Juan Montes, WSJ, "Caravan’s Stymied Passage Leaves Migrant Issue Boiling," 28 Dec. 2018 Privacy - Terms Details remain sketchy about what happened in Friday's shooting incident, but somehow the deputies were overcome by one of the inmates and shot. Lynn Horsley And Katie Bernard, kansascity, "'Heroes are never forgotten.' Officials, friends, family remember slain deputies," 17 June 2018 But rights to the sites themselves were sketchy at best. Stephen Wallis, WSJ, "Behind the Scenes of WSJ.’s Couture Photo Shoot," 7 Dec. 2018 The movie accepts the most romantic motivations for Wallace’s rebellion, doubling down on sketchy information about a woman who was executed for helping him escape the English. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "'Outlaw King' vs. 'Braveheart': Which Movie Gets Scotland Right?," 13 Nov. 2018 If anything seems sketchy, wrong, or dangerous and your host isn’t reachable or seemingly legitimate, contact Airbnb right away. Gianluca Russo, Teen Vogue, "Airbnb Tips: What to Know for Your First Time Booking," 14 Sep. 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

19 May 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

Spanish Central: Translation of sketchy

Nglish: Translation of sketchy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sketchy for Arabic Speakers

Comments on sketchy

What made you want to look up sketchy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to speak slightingly about or to degrade

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