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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): /ˈmɪst͡ʃɪf/, /ˈmɪʃt͡ʃɪf/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪstʃɪf
  • (UK, Midlands and North)IPA(key): /ˈmɪstʃiːf/, /ˈmɪʃtʃiːf/
  • 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, John Dryden, Works of Virgil, Aeneas, Book 10, lines 139-40:
        Was I the cause of mischief, or the man
        Whose lawless lust the fatal war began?
      • 1708, Jonathan Swift, A Letter Concerning the Sacramental Test:
        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 1708336:
        Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.
      • 1915, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, chapter 1, in The Valley of Fear:
        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, Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison:
      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, 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]


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Further reading[edit]

Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of myschef