[ kling-ee ]
/ ˈklɪŋ i /
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adjective, cling·i·er, cling·i·est.
apt to cling; adhesive or tenacious: a clingy fabric.
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Origin of clingy

First recorded in 1700–10; cling1 + -y1


cling·i·ness, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does clingy mean?

A person who is overly attached to or emotionally dependent on another person can be described as clingy.

What are some other words related to clingy?

Where does clingy come from?

The word clingy is recorded in the early 1700s, originally used to describe objects that would literally cling to things. Clingy, referring to people, emerges by the late 19th century. In an 1896 issue of Munsey’s Magazine, for instance, a woman describes more delicate peers, said to depend on men to provide for them and save them from snakes and wild animals, as “Clingy Vine” women. This use helps illustrate the evolution of clingy from literal, physical clinging to metaphorical, emotional kinds.

In his work on attachment theory in children in the 1970s, Dr. John Bowlby described children who were too emotionally dependent on their parents as acting clingy, unwilling to be separated from them. Bowlby’s work contributed to the wider field of psychology and helped parents to manage clingy children (and maybe even vice versa).

Describing romantic partners, typically boyfriends or girlfriends, as clingy takes off at least by the early 1990s. Online around this time, people were comparing clingy partners to toddlers and pets who displayed similar behavior.

How is clingy used in real life?

Children and partners are often described as clingy. When used about children, clingy is often discussed as a phase for toddlers. When used about partners, clingy tends to be a negative term more often issued as a complaint against girlfriends who need too much attention.

Be mindful that clingy can be considered a gendered term and potentially sexist stereotype, and it may appear alongside needy or high-maintenance. (Men may be described as possessive, controlling, or jealous for similar behaviors.) A popular 2012 meme, Overly Attached Girlfriend, memorably parodied clingy behavior, especially as it spilled over into the creepy.

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More examples of clingy:

“He got more possessive and more clingy towards her, and wouldn’t let her do certain things.”

—Lauren Hutton interviewed by Joseph Diaz, Keturah Gray, and Lauren Effron, ABC News, September 2018

How to use clingy in a sentence