sketchy

adjective
\ ˈske-chē \
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 \ adverb
sketchiness \ ˈske-​chē-​nəs \ 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

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 People are nothing more than tiny, sketchy figures. Willard Spiegelman, WSJ, "Sailing the Globe in a Gallery," 3 Aug. 2018 The science behind this is sketchy at best — daily birth control pills, hormonal IUDs, and emergency contraception all work primarily by inhibiting fertilization of an egg, not by preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo. Anna North, Vox, "Kavanaugh’s description of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs,” explained," 7 Sep. 2018 The history is sketchy until the late 17th century, when the vineyards were planted. Jay Mcinerney, Town & Country, "A New Era Begins at Château Lafite as Baron de Rothschild Hands Leadership Over to His Daughter," 13 Aug. 2018 Barack Obama had sketchy dealings with crooked businessman Tony Rezko. T.a. Frank, The Hive, "Why Trump May Yet Escape the Michael Cohen Freak Show," 20 Apr. 2018 The sketchy dealings of red-light-camera companies are not unique to Chicago. Dan King, National Review, "Miami Ends Red-Light Camera Program. Other Cities Should Too.," 11 Jan. 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

29 Dec 2018

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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

sketchy

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of sketchy

: not complete or clear
: done quickly without many details
US, informal : likely to be bad or dangerous

sketchy

adjective
\ ˈske-chē \
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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