tr.v. pro·voked, pro·vok·ing, pro·vokes
1. To incite to anger or resentment: taunts that provoked their rivals.
2. To stir to action or feeling: a remark that provoked me to reconsider.
3. To give rise to; bring about: a miscue that provoked laughter; news that provoked an uproar.
4. To bring about deliberately; induce: provoke a fight.
[Middle English provoken, from Old French provoquer, from Latin prōvocāre, to challenge : prō-, forth; see PRO-1 + vocāre, to call; see wekw- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: provoke, incite, excite, stimulate, arouse, rouse, stir1
These verbs mean to move a person to action or feeling or to summon something into being by so moving a person. Provoke often merely states the consequences produced: "Let my presumption not provoke thy wrath" (Shakespeare). "a situation which in the country would have provoked meetings" (John Galsworthy).
To incite is to provoke and urge on: Members of the opposition incited the insurrection. Excite implies a strong or emotional reaction: The movie will fail—the plot excites little interest or curiosity. Stimulate suggests renewed vigor of action as if by spurring or goading: "Our vigilance was stimulated by our finding traces of a large ... encampment" (Francis Parkman).
To arouse means to awaken, as from inactivity or apathy; rouse means the same, but more strongly implies vigorous or emotional excitement: "In a democratic society like ours, relief must come through an aroused popular conscience that sears the conscience of the people's representatives" (Felix Frankfurter). "The oceangoing steamers ... roused in him wild and painful longings" (Arnold Bennett).
To stir is to cause activity, strong but usually agreeable feelings, trouble, or commotion: "It was him as stirred up th' young woman to preach last night" (George Eliot). "I have seldom been so ... stirred by any piece of writing" (Mark Twain). See Also Synonyms at annoy.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.