vix·​en ˈvik-sən How to pronounce vixen (audio)
: a female fox
: a shrewish, ill-tempered woman
When Arabella called her a treacherous vixen and a heartless, profligate hussy, she spoke out freely, and said that she wasn't going to be abused.Anthony Trollope
informal : a sexually attractive woman
In this spy spoof, our hero, aided by a sexy vixen, … saves the world from a power-mad despot …Steven Rebello
vixenish adjective

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Vixens and Foxes

Vixen literally refers to a female fox, but it has two very distinctive extended meanings: “a shrew” and “a sexy woman.” How is it that the word took such semantically divergent paths?

The “combative, bad-tempered woman” sense has a very long history in our language, going back as far as the 16th century and extending well into the 20th. It may be found in Shakespeare and Swift as well as in latter-day descriptions of mothers-in-law and the names of gun boats. By mid-century, however, vixen begins to be used of glamorous and attractive women. Perhaps its application to female characters who combined combative and seductive qualities led to the word's reinterpretation. Or perhaps it was influenced by fox, another term for an attractive young woman that made its appearance in English around this time.

Examples of vixen in a Sentence

why anyone puts up with that vixen's sharp tongue is beyond me
Recent Examples on the Web Spears’ career, however, still thrived and her decision to lean more into the vixen image she was forced into was a smart move. Brittany Spanos, Rolling Stone, 8 Feb. 2024 Onstage, Regina strutted into every scene like a Bond vixen, bathed in a pink glow that made both her beauty and her cruelty seem almost otherworldly. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 10 Jan. 2024 Hailey Bieber had some fun reactions to husband Justin's turn as a video vixen. Quinci Legardye, Harper's BAZAAR, 26 Aug. 2023 The video sees a vixen walking on a treadmill surrounded by screens as footage of the same women in another location plays in the background. Tomás Mier, Rolling Stone, 24 Oct. 2023 Levi and his vixens take to the stage, call to the assembled to momentarily hush the widespread chatter of spiritual accomplishments and anarchist activism and to ready themselves for the contest. Matt Thompson, SPIN, 8 Nov. 2023 Emily Ratajkowski is getting into the Halloween spirit, channeling her inner villainous vixen. Hannah Jackson, Vogue, 31 Oct. 2023 There are barely any Black characters present, aside from a drug dealer and a vixen bartender, and their story lines are bland, despite occurring in the period immediately following Reconstruction. Jasper Lo, The New Yorker, 12 Sep. 2023 From light and shimmery base tones (think Bribe and Angel Fire) to transition shades (Bucked and Blur), and sultry hues to deepen your shadow (Burn, End Game), this palette comes with all the right colors to take your makeup look from natural glam to date night vixen. Alyssa Brascia, Peoplemag, 21 Aug. 2023

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

Word History


Middle English (southern dialect) *vixen, alteration of Middle English fixen, from Old English fyxe, feminine of fox

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vixen was in the 15th century

Cite this Entry

“Vixen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


vix·​en ˈvik-sən How to pronounce vixen (audio)
: a female fox

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