com·​plic·​it | \kəm-ˈpli-sət \

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

For every son or daughter of a controversial father who is arguably complicit in his or her parent’s machinations, there is a James Murdoch. Lucinda Rosenfeld, Town & Country, "What Happens to the Children of Infamous Fathers?," 21 Nov. 2017 And not merely for the physical abuse but for the psychological grooming by both her coach (Jason Ritter) and his lover (Elizabeth Debicki, tragically complicit). Daniel D'addario, Time, "HBO’s The Tale Grapples With Shifting Perspectives on Abuse and Trauma," 22 May 2018 As with so many such purges, some key institutions, such as the Catholic Church, were accused of being complicit. Chris Jones,, "'Madres' at Teatro Vista tells an Argentine story of protest in a dirty war, with 'Jane the Virgin' star in the cast," 2 May 2018 On Sunday, Nikki Haley informed the United Nations that our government was preparing sanctions against Russian companies complicit in Syria’s chemical weapons program. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Nixes Russia Sanctions That Haley Had Already Announced," 17 Apr. 2018 Investigation of complex relationships between leaders of OPEC countries and West, finding both complicit in warfare that has come as result of oil interest. Rasputin Todd,, "Things to do this week in Cincinnati: March 26-April 1," 26 Mar. 2018 Schools found complicit in funneling cash to athletes would face severe sanctions. Alex Putterman, The Atlantic, "The NCAA Is Facing a Crossroads," 22 Mar. 2018 Russia hopes its surprise World Cup success is finally bringing it out of the shadow of the Sochi Olympics, which were tainted by widespread doping and accusations the government was complicit. James Ellingworth, The Seattle Times, "Russia tries to shake off doping scandals at World Cup," 3 July 2018 But dissenting justices said Yelp could be held complicit in Bird’s refusal to remove her posting. Bob Egelko,, "Yelp does not have to remove users’ posts, California Supreme Court says," 2 July 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

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

More from Merriam-Webster on complicit

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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).


playful or foolish behavior

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