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 subversionary (audio) , -​shə-​ \ adjective
subversive \ səb-​ˈvər-​siv How to pronounce subversive (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 Like Gillespie, Brubeck took his music and mission around the world, venturing behind the Iron Curtain and into the Middle East not only with the American beat but with his own subversions of it. Howard Reich,, "Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra review: Wynton Marsalis and friends take on ‘Jazz Ambassadors’," 16 Nov. 2019 But in those movies’ cases — as in Ford — there’s a tender, nostalgic quality, a fresh treatment of old stories and archetypes that feels simultaneously like homage and subversion. David Canfield,, "Box office records will not propel Joker to a Best Picture nomination. Here's why," 14 Nov. 2019 From 1976 to 1981, Blondie was flawless, and its subversion of early-1960s girl-group innocence expanded hungrily to incorporate reggae, disco and rap. Rob Tannenbaum, Los Angeles Times, "Blondie’s Debbie Harry on her #MeToo past: ‘I was younger. I just felt that was Mother Nature’," 30 Sep. 2019 But given president Donald Trump’s destruction and subversion of the US diplomatic apparatus, this seems like a pretty big oversight on our part. James W. Carden, Quartz, "Elizabeth Warren has a plan to fix the State Department and no one wants to talk about it," 13 Sep. 2019 Too bad, because some wry subversion would be welcome right now. Daryl H. Miller,, "Review: Small theaters think big with ‘Ragtime’ at the Chance and ‘The Producers’ at Celebration," 11 July 2019 To align themselves with the prevailing anticommunism of the day was shrewd, since the association of homosexuality with subversion had been a leading justification for purging gay people from sensitive government positions. James Kirchick, WSJ, "Stonewall Wasn’t the Start of the Gay Rights Struggle," 22 June 2019 Many of the paintings here reckon with the grid in some way, through its statement and its subversion, declaration and deviation. Leah Ollman, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Better late than never: It’s time to submit to the surprises of Louise Fishman’s art," 22 Oct. 2019 Hong Kong still has to enact national security legislation to prohibit subversion against China and activity by foreign political bodies. Washington Post, "Why Hong Kong’s Still Protesting and Where It May Go: QuickTake," 26 Sep. 2019

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

30 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Subversion.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 9 December 2019.

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on subversion

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for subversion

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with subversion

Spanish Central: Translation of subversion

Nglish: Translation of subversion for Spanish Speakers

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