fe·​tish ˈfe-tish How to pronounce fetish (audio)
ˈfē- How to pronounce fetish (audio)
variants or less commonly fetich
: an object (such as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner
broadly : a material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence
: an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion : prepossession
: an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression
: a rite or cult of fetish worshippers

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A Brief History of Fetish

When fetish first appeared in English in the early 17th century, it referred to objects (often amulets) believed by certain West Africans to have supernatural powers. During the 19th century, the word took on a broader meaning: "an object of irrational devotion or reverence." The object need not be physical: a person may have a fetish for an idea, such as an unwarranted belief that a particular economic system will solve society’s ills. By the early 20th century, fetish took on yet another meaning quite distinct from its antecedents: a sexualized desire for an object (such as a shoe) or for a body part that is not directly related to the reproductive act (such as an earlobe).

Example Sentences

He has a fetish for secrecy. He wore a fetish to ward off evil spirits.
Recent Examples on the Web Even though 11-year-old Shelldon isn’t toilet-trained, is really messy, sleeps five months out of the year and has a foot fetish, his adoptive family in Kaysville still adores him. Mark Eddington, The Salt Lake Tribune, 26 Sep. 2022 Not all greens have a fetish for doomsday scenarios. Keith Kloor, Discover Magazine, 17 Mar. 2014 In American culture, Black people are both commodity and fetish; the flooding responses to this spectacle more than highlights that. Vulture, 28 Mar. 2022 It’s like a fetish, like how people like being whipped. Andy Greene, Rolling Stone, 27 Nov. 2022 Hughes’s airplane fetish, which Scorsese overlooked in The Aviator, is fulfilled. Armond White, National Review, 8 June 2022 This technique effectively laid all suggestions of overtly sleek finish fetish to rest. Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times, 10 Oct. 2022 But another ugly product of Hollywood’s serial-killer fetish has reared its ugly head. Brittany Spanos, Rolling Stone, 28 Sep. 2022 Instead, the Former Guy has made a fetish out of anointing election-denial fanatics in Republican primaries, regardless of their chances in November. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 12 Aug. 2022 See More

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

Word History


French & Portuguese; French fétiche, from Portuguese feitiço, from feitiço artificial, false, from Latin facticius factitious

First Known Use

1613, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of fetish was in 1613

Dictionary Entries Near fetish

Cite this Entry

“Fetish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fetish. Accessed 5 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


variants also fetich
ˈfet-ish How to pronounce fetish (audio)
 also  ˈfēt-
: an object (as an idol or image) believed to have supernatural or magical powers
: an object of unreasonable devotion or concern

Medical Definition


variants also fetich
ˈfet-ish also ˈfēt-
: an object or bodily part whose real or fantasized presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression

More from Merriam-Webster on fetish

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