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From Middle English incendiarie, from Old French incendiaire, from Latin incendiārius (setting alight), from incendium (destructive fire), from incendō (I set on fire, kindle), from in- (into, in, on, upon) + candeō (I am hot).


  • (UK) enPR: ĭnsĕn'dĭərē, IPA(key): /ɪnˈsɛn.dɪ.əɹ.i/, /ɪnˈsɛn.djəɹ.i/
  • (US) enPR: ĭnsĕn´dĭĕ'rē, IPA(key): /ɪnˈsɛn.di.ɛɹ.i/, /ɪnˈsɛn.di.əɹ.i/
  • (file)


incendiary (comparative more incendiary, superlative most incendiary)

  1. Capable of, or used for, or actually causing fire.
    • 1944 July and August, “Top Link Drivers: XXI—Driver H. Blunt, L.N.E.R.”, in Railway Magazine, page 226:
      Driving 2-6-2 locomotive No. 4771 Green Arrow, Blunt suddenly noticed that the tunnel mouth was silhouetted in a dazzling white glare and that incendiary bombs were showering down in their hundreds, he slammed on all his brakes and brought his train to a stop just inside the tunnel.
    • 1969, Susan Sontag, “Trip to Hanoi”, in Styles of Radical Will, Kindle edition, Penguin Modern Classics, published 2009, →ISBN, page 246:
      We saw photographs of bodies riddled with pellets from fragmentation bombs or charred by incendiary weapons (besides napalm, the Americans also drop white phosphorus, Thermit, and magnesium on the Vietnamese).
    • 2006, Edwin Black, chapter 1, in Internal Combustion[1]:
      Blast after blast, fiery outbreak after fiery outbreak, like a flaming barrage from within, [] most of Edison's grounds soon became an inferno. As though on an incendiary rampage, the fires systematically devoured the contents of Edison's headquarters and facilities.
  2. (technical) Of a damaging fire, intentionally caused rather than accidental.
    • 2003 December 18, Adams, j., Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, Trial Division, “R. v. Leite (F.), 2003 NLSCTD 181”, in CanLII[2], retrieved 3 October 2021:
      The Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the fire was incendiary in origin; that is, it was not accidental and that it was either intentionally or recklessly set by the accused.
  3. (figurative) Intentionally stirring up strife, riot, rebellion.
    • 2014, Ian Thomson, Primo Levi: A Life[3], Metropolitan Books, →ISBN, page 123:
      Earlier that year Italian Jews had come under serious attack when an incendiary publication, Gli ebrei in Italia (The Jews in Italy), had flooded the bookshops. The author, Paolo Orano, was a Fascist publicist whose book helped to harden Italian public sensibility against the Jews and pave the way for their eventual persecution.
  4. (figurative) Inflammatory, emotionally charged.
    Politics is an incendiary topic; it tends to cause fights to break out.



incendiary (plural incendiaries)

  1. Something capable of causing fire, particularly a weapon.
    The military used incendiaries to destroy the building. Fortunately, the fire didn't spread.
  2. One who maliciously sets fires.
    Synonym: arsonist
  3. (figurative) One who excites or inflames factions into quarrels.
    Synonym: agitator
    • March 7, 1692, Richard Bentley, The Folly of Atheism
      Several cities [] drove them out as incendiaries.

Derived terms[edit]