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I have a character who is of questionable morals and happens to shamelessly kill people for a living. They neither care who they kill nor care whether their actions are wrong, so long as they get their paycheck. I've described them as "sordid" and I rather like the way the word works in my text, but I read synonyms and am curious if this is the word. It seems to be more like sleazy in the way an old motel meant to house you while you're with a few hookers.

So, is there a better word I could use? If so, does it start with "s"? The alliteration with my character's name is nice and it would be really cool if I could keep that.

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  • So you're wondering if there is a better word for "amoral" that starts with s, and if "sordid" would fit this meaning? is that right?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Dec 14, 2015 at 17:42
  • @KitZ.Fox Yes, pretty much.
    – SoapyFork
    Dec 14, 2015 at 17:46
  • I wouldn't describe someone who happens to shamelessly kill people for a living as having questionable morals. Try 'facinorous'. Dec 14, 2015 at 20:00
  • Another 's' word with a somewhat different definition is sanguinary ( bloodthirsty, murderous). Dec 14, 2015 at 20:03
  • sanguinary implies that they enjoy, rather than are neutral to the act itself. great word tho. sordid certainly means more dirty, rather than amoral. Tho, amoral isn't even really right as it normally is held to mean(even if it doesn't) a person who enjoys the bad thing, rather than is uncaring.
    – Giu Piete
    Mar 5, 2019 at 1:02

2 Answers 2

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Free dictionary entry for sordid (adj.) includes (from Collins)

  1. selfish and grasping: sordid avarice.

and (from Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary)

  1. meanly selfish or mercenary.

—so yes, I think sordid is spot on. Other meanings—squalid, filthy, etc.—do indeed cover your No-tell Motel scenario, but the word clearly also covers what you want it to cover.

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Sordid has a definitely sleazy connotation to it.

If you used it to describe an affair, for example, it changes the imagery and meaning almost immediately.

"She heard Sam and Alex had an affair" sounds more mediocre than "She heard Sam and Alex had a sordid affair."

Now, discussing the affair seems to be about how morally degrading it was.

Even sordid's root word is the Latin verb sordere, "to be dirty" as in filthy, and sordid has a sense of making the noun it's associated with become despicable or vile.

For your character, sordid sounds like it fits well with the whole "dirty deeds done dirt cheap" depiction given in your question.

Other similar options: squalid, seedy, seamy, or unseemly.

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