complicit

adjective
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.

Keep scrolling for more

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

Your family members are complicit in covering this up. Amy Dickinson, The Denver Post, "Ask Amy: Survivor’s family forces contact with her abuser," 4 June 2019 Your family members are complicit in covering this up. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Survivor’s family forces contact with her abuser," 4 June 2019 Your family members are complicit in covering this up. Amy Dickinson, chicagotribune.com, "Ask Amy: Survivor's family forces contact with her abuser," 4 June 2019 Your family members are complicit in covering this up. Amy Dickinson, The Mercury News, "Ask Amy: They pretend they don’t know this secret about my brother," 4 June 2019 Your family members are complicit in covering this up. Ask Amy, oregonlive.com, "Ask Amy: Family repeatedly ignores sister’s wish to avoid contact with abusive brother," 4 June 2019 Your family members are complicit in covering this up. Amy Dickinson, Washington Post, "Ask Amy: Survivor’s family forces contact with her sibling abuser," 4 June 2019 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

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.

See More

First Known Use of complicit

1861, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for complicit

see complice

Keep scrolling for more

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for complicit

complicit

adjective

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).

WORD OF THE DAY

to move with exaggerated bouncy motions

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Finance Words Quiz

  • a-piggy-bank
  • The etymology of mortgage is related most closely to which two words?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!