vicious

adjective

vi·​cious ˈvi-shəs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
1
a
: dangerously aggressive : savage
a vicious dog
b
: marked by violence or ferocity : fierce
a vicious fight
2
: malicious, spiteful
vicious gossip
3
: worsened by internal causes that reciprocally augment each other
a vicious wage-price spiral
4
: having the nature or quality of vice or immorality : depraved
5
6
viciously adverb
viciousness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for vicious

vicious, villainous, iniquitous, nefarious, corrupt, degenerate mean highly reprehensible or offensive in character, nature, or conduct.

vicious may directly oppose virtuous in implying moral depravity, or may connote malignancy, cruelty, or destructive violence.

a vicious gangster

villainous applies to any evil, depraved, or vile conduct or characteristic.

a villainous assault

iniquitous implies absence of all signs of justice or fairness.

an iniquitous system of taxation

nefarious suggests flagrant breaching of time-honored laws and traditions of conduct.

the nefarious rackets of organized crime

corrupt stresses a loss of moral integrity or probity causing betrayal of principle or sworn obligations.

city hall was rife with corrupt politicians

degenerate suggests having sunk to an especially vicious or enervated condition.

a degenerate regime propped up by foreign powers

Example Sentences

Challenging areas of social consensus, however dumb or even vicious the consensus, is largely off limits for the media, because it wins no friends among the general public. Richard A. Posner, New York Times Book Review, 31 July 2005 The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Rolling Stone, 11 Nov. 2004 True to Finals form, this hardwood battle has become as vicious as any street scrum. Anne Marie Cruz, ESPN, 24 June 2002 For most of my life I have retained a haunting image from an old Tarzan movie: piranhas, those vicious little fish with the arrowhead-shaped teeth, devouring a pig. Forget that there are no piranha in Africa. But they do exist in Brazil, in abundance in the meandering waterways of the Amazon Basin. Gerald Eskenazi, New York Times, 6 Oct. 2002 The Olympics always seemed too much like war, vicious old men manipulating youngsters hungry for fame into performing heroic acts for short change. Robert Lipsyte, New York Times, 29 July 2001 His slider—a vicious, hard-breaking pitch with which he finished off right-handed hitters for years—was inconsistent and benign, and the velocity of his fastball was diminished. Buster Olney, New York Times Magazine, 4 Mar. 2001 a vicious tone of voice I know you're upset with her, but there's no need to be vicious. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The results suggest that, at least in mice, treating depressive symptoms depends on interrupting a vicious cycle, Hu says. Byemily Underwood, science.org, 27 Jan. 2023 Even worse, a vicious cycle is emerging in which biodiversity loss contributes to more global warming. Nick Studer, Fortune, 26 Jan. 2023 After the 2008 financial crisis, Murdaugh turned to a vicious cycle of borrowing and spending — eventually sparking a 15-year scheme to swindle nearly $9 million from his law partners and clients, according to the motion. María Luisa Paúl, Washington Post, 26 Jan. 2023 To avoid the vicious cycle of female underrepresentation, Engel suggests that new organizations focus on gender balance from day one. Kim Elsesser, Forbes, 23 Jan. 2023 This downward drift threatens to become a vicious cycle. Catherine Carlock, BostonGlobe.com, 21 Jan. 2023 That lack of connection might drive a person to engage with social media more, creating a vicious cycle of FoMO. Anna Kaufman, USA TODAY, 20 Jan. 2023 Tens of thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds were barred from Head Start, perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and poor educational attainment faced by those families. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 17 Jan. 2023 That puts us into a vicious cycle of always trying to feed an insatiable need. Time, 17 Jan. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vicious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, from Anglo-French vicios, from Latin vitiosus full of faults, corrupt, from vitium vice

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of vicious was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near vicious

Cite this Entry

“Vicious.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vicious. Accessed 4 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition

vicious

adjective
vi·​cious ˈvish-əs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
1
a
: likely to do evil : wicked
b
: of the nature of evil : immoral
2
: very dangerous
a vicious dog
3
: having or showing hateful feelings
vicious gossip
viciously adverb
viciousness noun

Medical Definition

vicious

adjective
vi·​cious ˈvish-əs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
1
: dangerously aggresive
a vicious dog
2
: of, relating to, or being perverse or abnormal behavior in a domestic animal

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