[ aj-i-tey-ter ]
/ ˈædʒ ɪˌteɪ tər /
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a person who stirs up others in order to upset the status quo and further a political, social, or other cause: The boss said he would fire any union agitators.
a machine or device for agitating and mixing.
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Origin of agitator

First recorded in 1730–40; agitate + -or2


ag·i·ta·to·ri·al [aj-i-tuh-tawr-ee-uhl, -tohr-], /ˌædʒ ɪ təˈtɔr i əl, -ˈtoʊr-/, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does agitator mean?

An agitator is someone who attempts to promote support or opposition for a political or social cause, especially by repeatedly raising the issue and bringing awareness to it.

To do this is to agitate, and the act of doing this can be called agitation. Both words are much more commonly used in more general ways. The verb agitate more commonly means to make someone feel anxious or to stir something up, like how a storm agitates the ocean.

Calling someone an agitator often implies that they are trying to stir things up and change the status quo, especially in a way that’s controversial. People who intend to do this might call themselves agitators. However, the word agitator is often used in a negative way, perhaps implying that such a person only intends to cause trouble. A more negative synonym for agitator is provocateur. A more positive or neutral synonym is activist.

The word agitator is also used in another very specific but unrelated way, as a name for a machine part whose function is agitating or mixing. This sense of the word is most commonly used to refer to part of a washing machine that agitates the clothes (spins them around in the water).

Example: He has spent years as a prominent antiwar agitator, protesting the proliferation of the military-industrial complex.

Where does agitator come from?

The first records of the word agitator come from the 1600s. It ultimately comes from the Latin verb agitāre, meaning “to set in motion.” The suffix -or is used to indicate a person who performs the action of the verb specified in the first part of the word—a person who agitates.

In a social and political context, an agitator is someone who attempts to stir things up, set movements in motion, and continue to raise awareness and support in order to make some kind of change.

In washing machines, the agitator helps to stir the clothes around in order to help clean them by rubbing the dirt off. More recently, many washing machines are designed without agitators, relying on other methods to get clothes clean.

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What are some other forms related to agitator?

  • agitatorial (adjective)
  • agitate (verb)

What are some synonyms for agitator?

What are some words that share a root or word element with agitator

What are some words that often get used in discussing agitator?


How is agitator used in real life?

Agitator is typically used in the context of political and social movements and the people trying to start and sustain them. It’s often used in a critical way.


Try using agitator!

True or False? 

Calling someone an agitator usually implies that they are trying to maintain the status quo.

How to use agitator in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for agitator

/ (ˈædʒɪˌteɪtə) /

a person who agitates for or against a cause, etc
a device, machine, or part used for mixing, shaking, or vibrating a material, usually a fluid
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012