Definition of vicious in US English:



  • 1Deliberately cruel or violent.

    ‘a vicious assault’
    • ‘They are vicious, horrible, and those responsible should be severely punished.’
    • ‘The tabloids violated my family's privacy in a manner that I felt was vicious and indecent.’
    • ‘Our most vicious tendencies are based around and triggered by hormonal impulses.’
    • ‘As I got older, I decided it might kill him to know that his only son was a vicious, nasty bully.’
    • ‘He is a more serious and vicious monster these days.’
    • ‘This was a cowardly, savage and vicious attack on a man who was utterly helpless.’
    • ‘Local radio news bulletins are jammed with reports of muggings and vicious petty criminals.’
    • ‘Here is a man who is so vicious and evil that he makes Charles Manson look like Christie Brinkley.’
    • ‘The aristocratic families at the heart of the new scandals are not loyal and dutiful - they are vicious, greedy and spiteful.’
    • ‘People could look harmless and gorgeous on the outside when really they are vicious vile evil monsters on the inside.’
    • ‘‘This is not just an attack on prison officers, but an attack on the entire criminal justice system by vicious thugs,’ he said.’
    • ‘Police are hunting a vicious thug who inflicted serious injuries on an innocent man in daylight.’
    • ‘True, the film gets off on its own sense of creative cruelty, but it is nowhere near as vile or vicious as it thinks it is.’
    • ‘While embarrassing moments are unavoidable and nothing to be ashamed about, dishonest, vicious or sleazy behavior is well within your control.’
    • ‘There is a serious agenda behind this vicious journalism.’
    • ‘Rather, they are aggressively recruiting new criminals to their vicious gang.’
    • ‘Are we wasting sympathy on vicious criminals when we insist on proper legal safeguards for them?’
    • ‘Don't tolerate the equally vicious dishonesty of adultery.’
    • ‘It was a brutal, vicious and pitiless attack in which you showed your victim no mercy.’
    • ‘Clearly this is counterintuitive to the more common assumption that large gangs of malevolent youths are vicious, destructive, soulless morons.’
    brutal, ferocious, savage, violent, dangerous, ruthless, remorseless, merciless, heartless, callous, cruel, harsh, cold-blooded, inhuman, fierce, barbarous, barbaric, brutish, bestial, bloodthirsty, bloody, fiendish, sadistic, monstrous, villainous, murderous, homicidal, heinous, atrocious, diabolical, terrible, dreadful, awful, grim
    malicious, malevolent, malignant, malign, spiteful, vindictive, venomous, poisonous, baleful, virulent, pernicious, backbiting, rancorous, caustic, mean, cruel, bitter, acrimonious, hostile, hate-filled, menacing, nasty, unpleasant, evil
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    1. 1.1 (of an animal) wild and dangerous to people.
      • ‘When this scene is shown on film the viewer is expected to take the side of the innocent turtle hatchling against the vicious crab or bird.’
      • ‘Before achieving this difficult task, he has to fight rebels in the forest, as well as Walken's private army, not to mention vicious monkeys with teeth like the American werewolf in London.’
      • ‘Animal Control Officers must deal with vicious and wild animals.’
      • ‘The female of the species is the most vicious creature known to exist.’
      • ‘Bloodstained snow, heavy cloaks, blackened eyes, Indian rites, puritanical fire and brimstone and the ominous howl of vicious wolf beasts.’
      • ‘Lady Hester evidently came from Somerset, where she acquired a formidable reputation for breaking in the most vicious horses.’
      • ‘Then let him undistractedly restrain his mind, as a charioteer restrains his vicious horses.’
      • ‘The Jungle Book follows Mowgli's adventures as he flees a vicious tiger with the help of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther.’
      • ‘At last they were ready to disembark and to leave this hellhole of a place swarming with the vicious creatures of the night.’
      • ‘A great altar of bone and steel rested at the end, crouching like some vicious creature waiting for prey.’
      • ‘Maybe it's that chihuahua next door which she mocks from the window: in her REM sleep visions, it's a vicious bull, ring through its nose.’
      • ‘I would like to warn cat owners about a vicious dog in the Long Ditton area.’
      • ‘And these two people, two lawyers, had very, very vicious dogs.’
      • ‘James held his sword in front of him in fear, and quickly stumbled backwards away from the vicious creature.’
      • ‘Snow wolves were vicious, bloodthirsty wolves that roamed the forest.’
      • ‘It seems I am now safely in my home, far from the menacing arms of the vicious beast which drove me from the wild!’
      • ‘He lifted it off, gingerly, like he was removing a possibly vicious pet rodent from his superior's suit; something not really his, but which somehow he was responsible for.’
      • ‘Although it looks a vicious creature, the wolf eel is in fact very timid, its main diet being the spiny sea urchin, the sharp spines of which have no effect on the wolf eel's tough jaws.’
      ferocious, savage
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    2. 1.2 Serious or dangerous.
      ‘a vicious flu bug’
      • ‘Prone to sudden vicious weather and arctic conditions, Mt. McKinley is a serious mountaineering undertaking even on its easier routes.’
      • ‘I have to tell you, if you tried to email me, I've got some seriously vicious spam software that might have kept you from getting through at all.’
      • ‘It was enough to bring on an onslaught of particularly vicious flu for anyone.’
      • ‘I didn't care whether it was ballet or flying a plane or driving a train; anything would break that vicious horrible cycle.’
      • ‘Suddenly they moved over a vicious looking chain fence and the base at White Sands, New Mexico was under them.’
      • ‘The race officer used great imagination, setting several angles across the lake, but conditions were difficult with vicious squalls and considerable wind shifts.’
      • ‘I personally look forward to future lawsuits from Somalian, Japanese, and Mexican governments for the vicious inaccuracies of these horrible movies.’
      • ‘The seductive illusion of virtuous circle was transposed to the ugly reality of vicious financial death spiral.’
      • ‘I had that in Scotland over Christmas, along with the rest of the island, and it was indeed vicious and nasty and not an experience I would wish to repeat.’
      • ‘As aggressive as enemy soldiers in the ‘Great War’, the flu proved a vicious killer.’
      • ‘It can be, at times, a nasty and vicious fight to make it all the way to the top of the mountain.’
      • ‘The fact ate at her like a vicious, degenerative disease that just wouldn't go away.’
      • ‘On the Raiders side, you get to see one of the most vicious, ugliest defenses known to man and NFL Films.’
      • ‘Yet the spectre of drugs returned with vicious abandon culminating in his being imprisoned in 1991 and serving 5 years.’
      • ‘This will be an ugly, vicious war with high casualties on both sides and lots of dead civilians.’
      • ‘Clarence threw a vicious rabbit punch into Jack's kidney, and broke the contact to aim a cut at Jack's head.’
      • ‘A person can be successfully evil only if he or she can embody a peculiarly nasty blend of vicious evil and laudable good.’
      • ‘The smell was revolting, a vicious and evil stench… the stench of death, she crawled forward on her hands and knees and reached for the wall of the cell.’
      • ‘According to the Killarney based TD, vicious cutbacks are now being imposed in the school building programme.’
  • 2literary Immoral.

    ‘every soul on earth, virtuous or vicious, shall perish’
    • ‘As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.’
    • ‘Satan, who represents Evil, the utterly vicious, is yet not a monster because he also fits absolutely into a certain moral universe, a certain symbolic order.’
    • ‘What had made me smile was his vicious and vile bigotry.’
    immoral, debauched, dissolute, abandoned, perverted, degenerate, profligate, degraded, wicked, sinful, vile, base, iniquitous, corrupt, corrupted, criminal, brutal, lewd, licentious, lascivious, lecherous, prurient, obscene, indecent, libertine
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  • 3archaic (of language or a line of reasoning) imperfect; defective.


Middle English (in the sense ‘characterized by immorality’): from Old French vicious or Latin vitiosus, from vitium ‘vise’.