sub·​ver·​sion | \ səb-ˈvər-zhən How to pronounce subversion (audio) , -shən \

Definition of subversion

1 : the act of subverting : the state of being subverted especially : a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within
2 obsolete : a cause of overthrow or destruction

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Other Words from subversion

subversionary \ səb-​ˈvər-​zhə-​ˌner-​ē How to pronounce subversion (audio) , -​shə-​ \ adjective
subversive \ səb-​ˈvər-​siv How to pronounce subversion (audio) , -​ziv \ adjective or noun
subversively adverb
subversiveness noun

Did You Know?

Subversion is literally the "turning over" of something. In the 1950s and '60s, many people worried about communist subversion of the U.S. government, though they often saw subversive activities where none existed. Nondemocratic governments often claim that anyone who disagrees with them or joins a demonstration is a subversive. But subversion isn't always quite so serious a matter; when words like weekend, sandwich, job, *and *camping started being used by the French, for example, some of them began claiming that America was subverting their language.

Examples of subversion in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Coming of age at a time of forbidden books and strict censorship, when some writers were regarded as outlaws, I was greatly drawn to this apparent subversion. Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, "Facing Ka‘ena Point: On Turning Eighty," 6 Apr. 2021 Prosecutors have argued those proposals constituted subversion, and arrested almost everyone involved in the primary, many of whom now face as much as a decade in prison, their political lives over. James Griffiths, CNN, "Beijing passes new 'patriot' election law for Hong Kong that restricts opposition," 30 Mar. 2021 Because these are agents that were critical to his sustained campaign of subversion against us. CBS News, "Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster weighs in on North Korea, Russia," 4 Nov. 2020 Lau could face up to a lifetime in prison on charges of election subversion and participation in pro-democracy protests. David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, "As democracy fades, Hong Kong’s political opposition become political prisoners," 19 Mar. 2021 But the storytelling became a pretty stimulating blend of fan service and gentle, often moving subversion. Michael Phillips,, "Commentary: Was ‘WandaVision’ worth the wait?," 5 Mar. 2021 The latest directives from Beijing come as 47 pro-democracy leaders faced court on charges of subversion for holding an unofficial primary vote last year. Britt Clennett, ABC News, "China moves to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system in ‘great leap backwards’ for city’s democracy," 5 Mar. 2021 That moment is also indicative of Boogie‘s subtle subversion. Jessica Kiang, Rolling Stone, "‘Boogie’: Eddie Huang’s Sports-Underdog Movie Scores as Culture-Clash Story," 4 Mar. 2021 Those charged on Sunday were among more than 50 Hong Kong residents arrested in January under the security law, accused of subversion for holding a primary vote last year ahead of legislative elections. Washington Post, "Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists charged under national security law," 28 Feb. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'subversion.' 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 subversion

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for subversion

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin subversion-, subversio, from Latin subvertere

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Time Traveler for subversion

Time Traveler

The first known use of subversion was in the 14th century

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Statistics for subversion

Last Updated

12 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Subversion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for subversion


sub·​ver·​sion | \ səb-ˈvər-zhən How to pronounce subversion (audio) \

Legal Definition of subversion

: a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working from within also : the crime of committing acts in furtherance of such an attempt

Other Words from subversion

subversionary \ -​zhə-​ˌner-​ē How to pronounce subversion (audio) \ adjective
subversive \ -​ˈvər-​siv How to pronounce subversion (audio) \ adjective or noun
subversively adverb
subversiveness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on subversion

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for subversion

Nglish: Translation of subversion for Spanish Speakers

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