in·​noc·​u·​ous | \ i-ˈnä-kyə-wəs How to pronounce innocuous (audio) \

Essential Meaning of innocuous

1 : not likely to bother or offend anyone : inoffensive He told a few innocuous jokes. an innocuous question
2 : causing no injury : harmless an innocuous gas

Full Definition of innocuous

1 : producing no injury : harmless
2 : not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility : inoffensive, insipid

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Other Words from innocuous

innocuously adverb
innocuousness noun

Look at the Prefix to Define Innocuous

Innocuous has harmful roots – it comes to us from the Latin adjective innocuus, which was formed by combining the negative prefix in- with a form of the verb nocēre, meaning "to harm" or "to hurt." In addition, nocēre is related to the truly "harmful" words noxious, nocent, and even nocuous. Innocent is from nocēre as well, although like innocuous it has the in- prefix negating the hurtful possibilities. Innocuous first appeared in print in the early 17th century with the clearly Latin-derived meaning "harmless or causing no injury" (as in "an innocuous gas"). The second sense is a metaphorical extension of the idea of injury, used to indicate that someone or something does not cause hurt feelings, or even strong feelings ("an innocuous book" or "innocuous issues," for example).

Examples of innocuous in a Sentence

Gossip is a relatively innocuous manifestation; fashioning one's self as eternally battling a white America mired in "racism" is a more noisome one. — John McWhorter, Wall Street Journal, 17 Sept. 2003 Small and innocuous looking, the habanero is uncontested as the hottest pepper in the world, the mother of all peppers. — Jim Robbins, Smithsonian, January 1992 And there was LeRoy … a somewhat gruesome but innocuous neighborhood dimwit who gave me the creeps when he sat down on the front stoop to listen to a bunch of us talking after school. — Philip Roth, New York Times Book Review, 18 Oct. 1987 The salamander, an innocuous amphibian like a big newt, was also regarded with a mixture of horror and awe. — David Attenborough, The First Eden, 1987 He told a few innocuous jokes. those innocuous lies we must tell every day if society is to remain civil
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Recent Examples on the Web The opening scene consists of a seemingly pleasant and innocuous green pasture that is surrounded by a lush forest. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 10 Sep. 2021 The first is the fact that the process mostly takes place online, out of the view of outsiders and powered by seemingly innocuous social media memes. Michael D'antonio And James Cohen, CNN, 17 Sep. 2021 Even as many countries reopen, new triggers arise, such as seemingly innocuous conversations about losing pandemic pounds; in some places, treatment has become more difficult to obtain. Alex Mcelroy, The Atlantic, 5 July 2021 There could also be more seemingly innocuous issues, like adding in new services or products that should attract a different audience. Zaheer Dodhia, Forbes, 1 June 2021 In 11 short stories, Sestanovich takes seemingly innocuous moments (a plane trip, a day at the office) and pulls out satisfying human drama. Seija Rankin,, 20 May 2021 Specifically, asking the most exceedingly innocuous question: Is Tesla doing something new here in Memphis? Andy Meek, BGR, 26 July 2021 Just under a week ago, Nintendo released the relatively innocuous 12.0.3 update which wasn’t supposed to do anything major to the Switch. Paul Tassi, Forbes, 18 June 2021 That seemingly innocuous question could send them down a spiral of wanting to continue that harmful behavior. Lora Grady, Good Housekeeping, 1 Sep. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'innocuous.' 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 innocuous

1631, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for innocuous

Latin innocuus, from in- + nocēre — see innocent entry 1

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Time Traveler for innocuous

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The first known use of innocuous was in 1631

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Last Updated

13 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Innocuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for innocuous


in·​noc·​u·​ous | \ i-ˈnä-kyə-wəs How to pronounce innocuous (audio) \

Kids Definition of innocuous

: not harmful innocuous chemicals

Other Words from innocuous

innocuously adverb


in·​noc·​u·​ous | \ in-ˈäk-yə-wəs How to pronounce innocuous (audio) \

Medical Definition of innocuous

: producing no injury : not harmful

Other Words from innocuous

innocuously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on innocuous

Nglish: Translation of innocuous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of innocuous for Arabic Speakers


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