\ ˈske-chē How to pronounce sketchy (audio) \
sketchier; sketchiest

Definition of sketchy

1 : of the nature of a sketch : roughly outlined
2 : wanting in completeness, clearness, or substance : slight, superficial the details are sketchy
3 : questionable, iffy got into a sketchy situation a sketchy character

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Other Words from sketchy

sketchily \ ˈske-​chə-​lē How to pronounce sketchy (audio) \ adverb
sketchiness \ ˈske-​chē-​nəs How to pronounce sketchy (audio) \ noun

The Varied Meanings of Sketchy

A sketch is a rough drawing usually done as an initial draft in contrast to a finished work. The word sketch suggests imperfection and a lack of refinement. It comes from the Dutch word schets and ultimately from the Italian verb schizzare, an imitative verb meaning "to splash."

Unsurprisingly, the adjective sketchy originally described something relating to or resembling a sketch, as in "a sketchy portrait." But because sketches are by nature rough and ill-defined, sketchy soon came to mean "wanting in completeness, clearness, or substance," as in "a sketchy understanding" or "sketchy details."

What lacks completeness, clearness, or substance is also subject to doubt or challenge, and sketchy went on to develop uses applying to what is questionable or iffy, either for physically obvious qualities or for something less tangible. In sports we see this sense of sketchy applied to a track or surface that is poorly maintained, as in "a sketchy track," and in broader use it is applied to streets and neighborhoods that can also be described as seedy, as in "a sketchy part of town."

The adjective has more recently extended in use to describe someone who creates an impression of unsavoriness, or something that comes from an untrustworthy source or is itself untrustworthy, as in "a sketchy dude" or "a scheme that sounds sketchy."

Examples of sketchy in a Sentence

The details about the accident are still a little sketchy. I have only a sketchy idea of how it works.
Recent Examples on the Web Craigslist can be sketchy, but smaller businesses often post jobs on the site. Ashley Stahl, Forbes, 8 Oct. 2021 Details, however, remain sketchy on an overall plan that is being pitched by Gulf Coast Housing Partnership. al, 4 Aug. 2021 Many of these builders are deceased or in their 90s, and the stories of their builds or Parade of Homes or the style of houses are sketchy. Paula Allen, San Antonio Express-News, 11 Sep. 2021 Many of these stories were known before, in sketchy versions, but Zenith gives us a full, and moving, sense of these people and Pessoa’s feelings for them. Damion Searls, The New Republic, 14 Sep. 2021 The sketchy dude turns out to be Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo), a shady fixer trying to save his own life by weaseling his way into unwitting police protection. Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times, 14 Sep. 2021 But the details are still sketchy and coal mining in China is still huge. CBS News, 11 Aug. 2021 Details remained sketchy early this week on the resignation of longtime Shaker Heights Municipal Court Judge K.J. Montgomery, effective Aug. 1. Thomas Jewell, cleveland, 3 Aug. 2021 In the show, Devi's inner monologue isn't in her voice; her complicated, often-sketchy train of thought is expressed to the audience by seven-time Grand Slam singles title winner John McEnroe. Ineye Komonibo,, 16 July 2021

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

1805, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for sketchy

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The first known use of sketchy was in 1805

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Dictionary Entries Near sketchy

sketch plate



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Last Updated

16 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sketchy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for sketchy



English Language Learners Definition of sketchy

: not complete or clear
: done quickly without many details
: likely to be bad or dangerous


\ ˈske-chē How to pronounce sketchy (audio) \
sketchier; sketchiest

Kids Definition of sketchy

1 : roughly outlined
2 : lacking completeness or clearness a sketchy description


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