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From Middle English myschef, meschef, meschief, mischef, from Old French meschief, from meschever (to bring to grief), from mes- (badly) + chever (happen; come to a head), from Vulgar Latin *capare, from Latin caput (head).


  • (US, UK (South)) IPA(key): /ˈmɪs.t͡ʃɪf/, /ˈmɪʃ.t͡ʃɪf/
    • (file)
    • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪstʃɪf
  • (UK, Midlands and North) IPA(key): /ˈmɪs.t͡ʃiːf/, /ˈmɪʃ.t͡ʃiːf/
  • Rhymes: -ɪstʃiːf


mischief (countable and uncountable, plural mischiefs)

  1. (uncountable) Conduct that playfully causes petty annoyance.
    Synonyms: delinquency, naughtiness, roguery, scampishness; see also Thesaurus:villainy, Thesaurus:mischief
    Drink led to mischief.
  2. (countable) A playfully annoying action.
    John's mischief, tying his shoelaces together, irked George at first.
  3. (collective) A group or a pack of rats.
    • 2014, G. W. Rennie, The Rat Chronicles, iUniverse, →ISBN, page 21:
      Kirac, the leader of the rats under his charge, speaks to the major through his telepathic abilities that manifested after the alien virus infected him and his mischief of rats.
    • 2015, Rachel Smith, John Davidson, Rats For Kids, Mendon Cottage Books, →ISBN, page 6:
      A group of rats is not a herd or a gaggle, but a pack or a mischief of rats. Rats in general are omnivorous, meaning they will eat almost anything.
  4. (archaic) Harm or injury:
    1. (uncountable) Harm or trouble caused by an agent or brought about by a particular cause.
      She had mischief in her heart.
      Sooner or later he'll succeed in doing some serious mischief.
      • 1697, Virgil, “The Tenth Book of the Æneis”, in John Dryden, transl., The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Æneis. [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC, page 502, lines 139–140:
        Was I the Cauſe of Miſchief, or the Man / Whoſe lawlesſ Luſt the bloody War began?
      • 1718 December 15 (Gregorian calendar), Jonathan Swift, “A Letter Concerning the Sacramental Test”, in Thomas Sheridan and John Nichols, editors, The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift, [], new edition, volume IV, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], published 1801, →OCLC, page 435:
        I have been tired in history with the perpetual folly of those states, who call in foreigners to assist them against a common enemy: but the mischief was, these allies would never be brought to allow, that the common enemy was quite subdued. And they had reason; for it proved at last, that one part of the common enemy was those who called them in, and so the allies became at length the masters.
      • 1815 December (indicated as 1816), [Jane Austen], chapter 8, in Emma: [], volume I, London: [] [Charles Roworth and James Moyes] for John Murray, →OCLC:
        Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.
      • 1914 September – 1915 May, Arthur Conan Doyle, chapter 1, in The Valley of Fear: A Sherlock Holmes Novel, New York, N.Y.: George H[enry] Doran Company, published 27 February 1915, →OCLC:
        I fear this means that there is some mischief afoot.
    2. (countable) An injury or an instance of harm or trouble caused by a person or other agent or cause.
      It may end in her doing a great mischief to herself—and perhaps to others too.
  5. (law) A criminal offence defined in various ways in various jurisdictions, sometimes including causing damage to another's property.
  6. (archaic, countable) A cause or agent of annoyance, harm or injury, especially a person who causes mischief.
    Synonyms: bad boy, knave, rapscallion, rascal, rogue; see also Thesaurus:villain, Thesaurus:troublemaker
    • 1753 (indicated as 1754), [Samuel Richardson], The History of Sir Charles Grandison. [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to VI), London: [] S[amuel] Richardson; [a]nd sold by C. Hitch and L. Hawes, [], →OCLC:
      To die like a man of honour, Sir Hargrave, you must have lived like one. You should be sure of your cause. But these pistols are too ready a mischief. Were I to meet you in your own way, Sir Hargrave, I should not expect, that a man so enraged would fire his over my head, as I should be willing to do mine over his. Life I would not put upon the perhaps involuntary twitch of a finger.
    • 1993, Carlos Parada, Genealogic Guide to Greek Mythology[1], page 71:
      Epimetheus was scatter-brained and a mischief to men for having taken the woman [Pandora] that Zeus had formed.
  7. (euphemistic) The Devil; used as an expletive.
    • 1967, The Statesman, volume 12, page 260:
      What the mischief are you? and how the mischief did you get here, and where in thunder did you come from?
  8. (Australia) Casual and/or flirtatious sexual acts.


Derived terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


mischief (third-person singular simple present mischiefs, present participle mischiefing, simple past and past participle mischiefed)

  1. (transitive, obsolete) To do a mischief to; to harm.
    • 1719, Daniel Defoe, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, page 144:
      [] so, when the two ladders were taken down, no man living could come down to me without mischiefing himself, []
    • 1911, James Matthew Barrie, Peter and Wendy, page 86:
      'Not now, Smee,' Hook said darkly. 'He is only one, and I want to mischief all the seven. Scatter and look for them.'
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To slander.
    • 1708, John Dunton, The Phenix, page 403:
      And so it hath been divers times; Men mischiefing the Jews to excuse their own Wickedness: as to instance one Precedent in the time of a certain King of Portugal.


Further reading[edit]

Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of myschef