Elicit - illicit

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

Don't confuse the two words elicit and illicit, which in all but the most careful speech sound pretty much the same (they are near homophones).

  • 'To elicit' is a verb. It means 'to draw out of', 'to extract', and is applied to abstract things - mostly words, arguments or evidence etc. A policeman, or a lawyer, might elicit a confession from a witness; a comedian might elicit a laugh from an audience; a scientist might elicit a measurement from an experiment. Less commonly, it has been applied to fire: "Having elicited sparks from two flints he lighted a large fire" (Adler, G. J. (1860) translating C. C. Fauriel History of Provençal Poetry xii. 251, cited OED).
Etymological note: elicit is derived from ēlicitus, the past participle of the Latin verb ēlicĕre 'to draw forth'.
  • Illicit is an adjective. It is the negative of licit, 'allowed', 'permitted'. Illicit therefore means 'not allowed', 'not authorized', or 'not lawful'. Illicit overlaps in meaning with illegal, but can be used for less serious contraventions, or breaches of less serious rules than a country's laws: a student might gain illicit knowledge of an exam question before sitting the paper; an angler might keep a fish illicitly above the quota allowed; and in Victorian times illicit love and illicit passion were common euphemisms for extra-marital sex.
Illicit is derived from Latin licitus, the past participle of the impersonal verb licēre, 'to be allowed', prefixed by the negative in-, assimilated into il- by the initial '-l-' of licitus.