A simple online search gave me the impression that the phrase "designing wickedness" may be more or less archaic. Today, I came across it in a text by Bertrand Russell:

What constitutes a nation is a sentiment and an instinct, a sentiment of similarity and an instinct of belonging to the same group or herd. The instinct is an extension of the instinct which constitutes a flock of sheep, or any other group of gregarious animals. The sentiment which goes with this is like a milder and more extended form of family feeling. When we return to England after being on the Continent, we feel something friendly in the familiar ways, and it is easy to believe that Englishmen on the whole are virtuous, while many foreigners are full of designing wickedness.

While the meaning of the paragraph is clear, I don't know how the word 'designing' modifies the meaning of 'wickedness' in this phrase.

2 Answers 2


“Designing” as an adjective means “crafty” or “deceitful.” So, “designing wickedness” means wickedness that isn’t just evil, but is also cunning and artful. See Oxford’s definition of “designing.”

And I wouldn’t say that “designing” is an archaic word, and thus “designing wickedness” isn’t an archaic phrasing.

  • I had looked it up in the wrong dictionaries! Thanks.
    – apadana
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 16:29
  • No problem. And, if I may offer a suggestion, I wouldn’t use just any dictionary. You must find a reliable and accredited one, such as the OED or Merriam-Webster.
    – user305707
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 16:30
  • Right. And not everything in English is "already written".
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 16:41
  • @Lambie And that means what exactly?
    – user305707
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 17:04
  • @NathanM. It means just that. Thank goodness we can still write things in English that are not yet "out there". Otherwise, it would be a very dull world indeed. People often make the mistake of thinking you have be able to google it, for it to exist or be OK in English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 17:08

Generally "design" is, as you know:

  1. intention; purpose; end.
    Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

I've checked a number of dictionaries and they all define "designs" as having to do with craftiness, slyness, or underhandedness.

have designs on
1Aim to obtain (something), typically in an underhand way.
‘he suspected her of having designs on the family fortune’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

c. often designs A secretive or underhanded plot or scheme: He has designs on my job
American Heritage Dictionary

  1. (often plural; often foll by on or against) a plot or hostile scheme, often to gain possession of (something) by illegitimate means
    Collins English Dictionary

  1. designs, a hostile or aggressive project or scheme with evil or selfish motives: to have designs on someone's property.
    Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

Dictionary.com has the plural noun "designs"

designs, a hostile or aggressive project or scheme having evil or selfish motives: He had designs on his partner's stock.

So it seems to have a meaning of contriving for selfish or nefarious purposes. Merriam-Webster Dictionary is the only dictionary I checked which didn't have the sinister meaning.

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