The Meaning of Provocative: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of provocative? This guide will provide you with all of the info you need on the word provocative, including its definition, etymology, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word provocative mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, Dictionary, and Cambridge Dictionary, the word provocative, pronounced “prəˈvɒkətɪv” is an adjective that has two possible meanings. First, it can mean something that elicits an emotion of anger or some other strong feeling. This can cause irritation, vexation, or other frustrated feelings. For example, one might call a protest against something they do not agree with provocative. Art is also commonly referred to as provocative if it is very gory or sexaul, or if it has a strong message, particularly a political one. Many people aim to create provocative art that can start conversations. 

Additionally, the term provocative can mean sexually stimulating. This is very similar to the first meaning in that it is eliciting a strong emotion, however this emotion is specifically sexual in nature. People might refer to a particularly racy film as provocative, and it is commonly used to refer to clothing that some may find inappropriate for different scenarios. For example, in the film Easy A, the lead character Olive begins to wear corsets and tight fitting clothing to school which is considered provocative by her classmates, teachers, and the school administration. Someone who is considered provocative or who makes provocative remarks could be referred to as a provocateur. Many things can be described as provocative – there are provocative statements, provocative books, provocative looks, and even a provocative smile.

The word provocative is also used in many other languages, and is mainly used to mean something that provokes strong negative emotions in contrast to strong sexual desire. This list of translations for the word provocative is provided by Word Sense

  • Maori: whakataratara‎
  • Russian: провокацио́нный‎
  • Ido: (-ul,-in) provoko‎ o
  • Italian: procace‎, attraente‎
  • Nynorsk: provoserande‎
  • Finnish: provosoiva‎, provokatiivinen‎, provokatorinen‎
  • Spanish: provocador‎, provocativo‎
  • Bokmål: provoserende‎
  • German: provokant‎
  • French: provocateur‎ (masc.), provocatrice‎ (fem.)
  • Arabic: مُسْتَفِز‎
  • Catalan: provocador‎, provocatiu‎
  • Polish: prowokacyjny‎
  • Czech: provokativní‎

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word provocative?

There are many different words that osmone can use in place of the word provocative. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful to know if you want to avoid repeating yourself or if you want to expand your vocabulary. Since the word provocative has two different meanings, this means that it will have two different sets of synonyms. Both of these lists of synonyms are provided by Thesaurus. This first set of synonyms has the same definitions of provocative meaning aggravating. 

  • stimulating
  • influential
  • aggravating
  • outrageous
  • pushing
  • provoking
  • intoxicating
  • disturbing
  • galling
  • challenging
  • goading
  • exciting
  • inciting
  • stimulant
  • offensive
  • inspirational
  • insulting
  • incensing
  • spurring
  • heady
  • annoying

This next set of synonyms for the word provocative refers to something that is sexually stimulating. 

  • alluring
  • exciting
  • interesting
  • intriguing
  • seductive
  • sexy
  • arousing
  • enchanting
  • erotic
  • heady
  • intoxicating
  • inviting
  • stimulating
  • suggestive
  • tantalizing
  • tempting

How can the word provocative be used in a sentence?

The word provocative can be used in many different scenarios. It can be used to describe something that is sexually exciting or enticing, and it can also be used to describe something that provokes strong negative emotions. The word provocative is used to mean sexually exciting in this first example. Here, Ella and Dannie are shopping for Valentine’s Day lingerie to impress their partners with.

Ella: What do you think?

Dannie: Oh my God, you look amazing. You have to buy that. Sam is gonna flip!

Ella: Are you sure? You don’t think it’s too… provocative?

Dannie: Provocative? Dannie. It’s lingerie that you’re buying to wear on Valentine’s Day. If this isn’t the time to be provocative, I don’t know what is. You look incredible. Buy it!

Here, Ella and Dannie use the word provocative to describe the lingerie that Ella is trying on for her big Valentine’s Day date with her partner Sam. In this next example, Ella and Dannie are at an art exhibit together.

Ella: Wow, I really love this one.

Dannie: You do? I don’t know if I really get it.

Ella: I think it’s a total commentary on our current political climate. It’s really powerful; provocative, even. I think the artist is going to stir up some controversy with this one.

Dannie: If you say so. All I see are a bunch of lines. But hey, you’re the curator.

Here, Ella uses the term provocative to describe the piece of art. She believes the piece of art will incite strong emotions from others and create a lot of controversy.

What is the origin of the word provocative?

According to Etymonline, the word provocative has been used since the mid-15th century to mean eliciting. This word comes from the Old French provocatif which has also been used since the 15th century. The Old French word comes directly from the Late Latin provocativus which means calling forth. This comes from the past participle stem of the Latin provocare, which is provocat. This is also where we get the word provoke, provoking, provoked, and provocation. This word has been used to specifically mean sexually stimulating or related to eliciting sexual desire since the 1620s. Related words include the adverb provocatively and the noun provocativeness. The earliest appearance of the word provocative was used as a noun to mean an aphrodisiac in the early 15th century. 

Overall, the word provocative has two different potential meanings. This adjective can describe something that is very sexually stimulating or enticing. It can also describe something that provokes a strong negative emotion, such as anger or frustration. Many different things can be described as being provocative, including art, clothing, people, and opinions.