sa·​ber-rat·​tling ˈsā-bər-ˌrat-liŋ How to pronounce saber-rattling (audio)
variants or saber rattling or chiefly British sabre-rattling or sabre rattling
: overtly and often exaggeratedly threatening actions or statements (such as verbal threats or ostentatious displays of military power) that are meant to intimidate an enemy by suggesting possible use of force
But Jager insists that North Korean saber-rattling was aimed mostly at extorting economic aid from Washington, Seoul and other governments anxious to preserve peace at almost any price.Mark Atwood Lawrence
Iran's noisy saber rattling is only the latest lurch in its erratic foreign policy.John Greenwald
broadly : threatening statements or actions
The U.S. central bank has been saber-rattling for months regarding interest rate hikes but has yet to pull the trigger amid uneven economic data. Jeff Fox
For months now, the card companies have been threatening to cut rewards programs sharply to make up for revenue lost because of the new restrictions. My guess, however, is that this talk is just so much saber-rattling. Ron Lieber

Examples of saber-rattling in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web That response barely qualified as saber-rattling by recent standards, and was far less than many China-watchers had expected. Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, 22 Jan. 2024 Achieving a reset in ties has been complicated by Beijing’s tense standoffs with the Philippines over contested islands, escalating saber-rattling around Taiwan, and frequent dangerous intercepts by Chinese ships and warplanes targeting the United States and its allies. Christian Shepherd, Washington Post, 30 Dec. 2023 Meanwhile, Biden’s allies are seeking to remind voters about the turbulence of Trump’s presidency, which was marked by trade wars, nuclear saber-rattling and late-night social media posts. Toluse Olorunnipa, Washington Post, 9 Nov. 2023 Russia is using nuclear saber-rattling as a way to get leverage on Ukraine, says Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Mathias Hammer, TIME, 6 Oct. 2023 The actor talked with experts who were split on whether this was saber-rattling or a real threat. Stephen Rodrick, Variety, 13 Sep. 2023 It is not owned by the Chinese government, which has become a potent rallying cry for the GOP thanks in part to its spy balloons and saber-rattling toward self-governing Taiwan. Laura Vozzella, Washington Post, 28 Apr. 2023 Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has frequently turned to nuclear saber-rattling in response to Western criticism or announcements of support for Ukraine. Francesca Ebel, Washington Post, 30 Mar. 2023 Well, Putin has engaged in nuclear saber-rattling since the start of this crisis. ABC News, 26 Mar. 2023

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

Word History

First Known Use

1914, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of saber-rattling was in 1914

Dictionary Entries Near saber-rattling

Cite this Entry

“Saber-rattling.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

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