Ma·​chi·​a·​vel·​lian ˌma-kē-ə-ˈve-lē-ən How to pronounce Machiavellian (audio)
: of or relating to Machiavelli or Machiavellianism
: suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli
specifically : marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith
He relied on Machiavellian tactics to get elected.
Machiavellian noun

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Machiavellian and Other Bad Behavior

While inspiring an eponym may seem like a fine way to achieve linguistic immortality, it must be said that many words taken from people’s names are not terribly complimentary. Machiavellian comes from the Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the author of the most famous treatise on bare-knuckled politics ever published, The Prince. Other less-than-laudatory English eponyms include the verb burke, after William Burke, a 19th century Irish criminal famous for smothering people and selling their bodies to be dissected; dunce, from John Duns Scotus, whose writings were widely ridiculed in the 16th century; and boycott, from Charles C. Boycott, a land manager in 19th century Ireland who was himself boycotted for charging high rents.

Example Sentences

a Machiavellian battle for control of the company yet another tale of a power-mad dictator with a Machiavellian plan to take over the world

Word History


Niccolo Machiavelli

First Known Use

1572, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Machiavellian was in 1572

Dictionary Entries Near Machiavellian

Cite this Entry

“Machiavellian.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


Ma·​chi·​a·​vel·​lian ˌmak-ē-ə-ˈvel-ē-ən How to pronounce Machiavellian (audio)
: of or relating to the belief that a ruler is justified in using any means to stay in power
: characterized by dishonesty or trickery
Machiavellian noun

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