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sleuthed; sleuthing; sleuths

intransitive verb

: to act as a detective : search for information

transitive verb

: to search for and discover

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"They were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" Those canine tracks in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles set the great Sherlock Holmes sleuthing on the trail of a murderer. It was a case of art imitating etymology. When Middle English speakers first borrowed sleuth from Old Norse, the term referred to "the track of an animal or person." In Scotland, sleuthhound referred to a bloodhound used to hunt game or track down fugitives from justice. In 19th-century U.S. English, sleuthhound became an epithet for a detective and was soon shortened to sleuth. From there, it was only a short leap to turning sleuth into a verb describing what a sleuth does.

Examples of sleuth in a Sentence

Noun the popular TV sleuth lives a much more action-packed life than do his real-world counterparts
Recent Examples on the Web
While that reasoning was highly disputed by internet sleuths, Jonas might have just been preemptively preparing himself for the inevitable: his two exes grabbing a li’l din-din together. Vulture, 20 Sep. 2023 He’s been played by everybody from Tony Randall to John Malkovich; Peter Ustinov portrayed the deductive sleuth six times, and David Suchet has made a career out of gifting TV viewers with the definitive take on Christie’s murder-mystery icon. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 16 Sep. 2023 Christie may not have invented the non-professional detective, but Miss Marple remains a template for the amateur sleuth. Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times, 13 Sep. 2023 Some curious sleuths have managed to find the old profile, now an online time capsule of Collins’ social media presence all through her childhood and teenage years. Angela Yang, NBC News, 3 Sep. 2023 Internet sleuths on TikTok and YouTube quickly descended upon Franke's and Hildebrandt's social media pages following their arrests to uncover alarming statements made by the two influencers on their public platforms. Audrey Conklin, Fox News, 8 Sep. 2023 The Minions and Black Widow received solo movies, and now Stephen King’s unassuming ace sleuth Holly Gibney has the literary equivalent of a blockbuster. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, 6 Sep. 2023 Over the past year, their little group of internet sleuths, trans engineers and activists has methodically chased Kiwi Farms across servers and networks around the globe, successively persuading more than two dozen companies to drop the site. Nitasha Tiku, Washington Post, 3 Sep. 2023 The mystery series follows a Gen Z amateur sleuth and tech-savvy hacker named Darby Hart (Emma Corrin) who is invited, alongside eight other guests, by a reclusive billionaire (Clive Owen) to participate in a retreat at a remote and dazzling location. Selome Hailu, Variety, 17 Aug. 2023
In 1994, The New Republic sent him on assignment to Little Rock, Arkansas, to sleuth around the financial paper trail known as Whitewater. Jonathan Lethem, The New Yorker, 21 Aug. 2023 One redditor sleuthed that The Afterparty season three is already in the works, according to an Instagram story posted by writer Katie Miller. Town & Country, 2 Aug. 2023 Two button clicks later, the usage type was corrected; part — but not all — of that was a dishwasher cycle, while the rest remains to be sleuthed out. Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times, 31 May 2023 Over a five-year research period, the pair, along with curatorial assistant in Latino art and history Carolina Maestre, selected and sleuthed out 94 objects for the show after making visits to 74 collections around the world. Maya Wei-Haas, Smithsonian Magazine, 30 May 2023 Serious collectors sleuth online for hard-to-find species and travel around the country to auctions and plant shows. Hannah Holland, Washington Post, 2 May 2023 Veterinarians first identified influenza D in pigs in 2011 and later sleuthed out the virus’s primary host: cattle. Meghan Bartels, Scientific American, 24 Apr. 2023 On Twitter, armchair sleuths with hundreds of thousands of followers use tracking software to expose crypto scams. David Yaffe-Bellany, New York Times, 22 Apr. 2023 And yet, that didn't stop them from immediately sleuthing through her lyrics to find connections to Joe. Women's Health, 10 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sleuth.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



short for sleuthhound

First Known Use


1872, in the meaning defined above


1900, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of sleuth was in 1872


Dictionary Entries Near sleuth

Cite this Entry

“Sleuth.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun


2 of 2 verb
: to act as a detective


a shortened form of sleuthhound "a dog that follows a track or trail by scent," from Middle English sleuth "a track or trail"; of Norse origin

Word Origin
In Middle English the word sleuth meant "the track or trail left by an animal or person." After the 15th century sleuth was seldom used except in such words as sleuth-dog and sleuthhound. These were terms for a dog trained to follow a track or trail. The sleuthhound became well known for its eager and thorough pursuit of an object. Later the word sleuthhound came to be used for a "detective." The modern word sleuth first came into use as a shortened form of sleuthhound.

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