com·​plic·​it | \ kəm-ˈpli-sət How to pronounce complicit (audio) \

Definition of complicit

: helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way He was complicit in the cover-up.

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Complicit and Its Accomplices

Complicit is a relatively recent addition to English vocabulary, arriving in the mid-1800s. It is a back-formation from complicity “association or participation in a wrongful act,” which came straight from a French word of the same meaning, complicité, in the 1600s. The oldest English word in this family is the now-obsolete complice (pronounced /COMP-liss/)—defined as “an associate or accomplice especially in crime”—which dates back to the 1400s, when it came from French. These words ultimately derive from the Latin verb meaning “to fold together,” complicare, formed by combining com- (meaning “with,” “together,” or “jointly”) and the verb plicare, meaning “to fold.”

This literal meaning evolved into a figurative one: the definition of complicit, “helping to commit a crime or do wrong,” describes individuals who are “folded together” metaphorically. Complicity and the its cousins accomplice, complicitous, and complice are all part of this gang.

Complicare, in a second of its Latin senses, “to twist together,” is the root of another English word, complicate, which originally meant “to unite intimately by intertwining.” In this case, the idea of things “twisted together” makes sense as an image of something composed of many elements, that is, something complicated. The -pli- of these words is from plicare (“to fold”), which is also the root of ply, the verb meaning “to twist together” or the noun meaning “one of several layers.”

Other words that derive from plicare are also illuminated by their etymologies: explicit “revealed without ambiguity” ultimately comes from Latin explicare, meaning “to unfold,” while implicit, meaning “implied,” descends from a Latin verb whose roots literally mean “to fold in.”

Examples of complicit in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The Houthi leadership has lashed out at both the Arab intervention and Western governments, which the group sees as complicit in the offensive. Margaret Coker, New York Times, "As Saudis Go to War, the Crown Prince Attends a Soccer Match," 14 June 2018 Thus the imperative of casting the NRA as the adversary and all who welcome its money and support as complicit. William Cummings, USA TODAY, "The Bubble: March for Our Lives protesters dismissed by conservatives," 26 Mar. 2018 Veronica accuses Hermione of being complicit and Hermione explains that Veronica being Hiram’s daughter affords her a level of protection that even Hermione herself does not have. Jessica Macleish, Teen Vogue, ""Riverdale" Recap Season 3 Episode 1: Does Archie Go to Jail?," 11 Oct. 2018 In 2009, Royal Dutch Shell agreed to a $15.5 million settlement to end a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in New York alleging that the oil giant was complicit in the nine executions. Mike Corder, The Seattle Times, "Nigerian widows sue Shell for complicity in activist deaths," 12 Feb. 2019 Congress first passed this provision in 1971 to sever joint liability if one spouse isn’t complicit in the other’s bad tax behavior. Laura Saunders, WSJ, "So Your Wife Embezzled $500,000 and the IRS Wants to Tax You," 3 Aug. 2018 With many nations already very unhappy, but complicit with the tournament, any suggestion of an expansion appears to be the final straw., "European Leagues Set to Oppose FIFA President Over 2022 Qatar World Cup Expansion," 17 Apr. 2018 By reporting visiting parents to law enforcement, the Washoe County School District will be complicit in family separations. Scott Sonner, The Seattle Times, "ACLU condemns Nevada school policy for background checks," 11 Dec. 2018 If the Justice Department has good-faith grounds on which to believe the president is complicit in a serious crime, the president should be investigated; if not, the president should not be investigated. Andrew C. Mccarthy, National Review, "Rod Rosenstein Is Shirking His Duty to Supervise Robert Mueller," 29 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'complicit.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of complicit

1861, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for complicit

see complice

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More Definitions for complicit



English Language Learners Definition of complicit

formal : helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way

More from Merriam-Webster on complicit

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with complicit

Comments on complicit

What made you want to look up complicit? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


an act or instance of returning to life

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