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 For Biles, Nichols, and other survivors of Nassar’s abuse to speak out against him and the people and organizations that were complicit is awe-inspiringly brave. Lydia Wang,, 3 Aug. 2021 Many Democrats believe Republicans were complicit, and some Republican lawmakers have subsequently sought to downplay the events of that day or blame the other party for them. New York Times, 1 Aug. 2021 In September 2020, the Delhi Assembly’s peace and harmony committee found that Facebook was complicit in aggravating the Hindu-Muslim riots in Delhi earlier that year, where 53 people died and over 400 were injured. Akanksha Singh, Wired, 18 Aug. 2021 But even as those officers were complicit in the atrocities of World War II, 32 diplomats defied orders and risked their own safety to rescue others from harm. Belén Dumont,, 2 Aug. 2021 At the time of the 2019 ruling, sources explained that this might lead to some athletes who might have been complicit in the scandal to compete anyways. Katherine J Igoe, Marie Claire, 30 July 2021 Charges were never filed against Musdalifah’s husband, who Marni said was complicit in her treatment. Los Angeles Times, 28 July 2021 Thousands of doctors would have to have been complicit in the conspiracy. WSJ, 22 July 2021 Market managers are complicit in maintaining this racist culture. oregonlive, 21 July 2021

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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Time Traveler for complicit

Time Traveler

The first known use of complicit was in 1861

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Last Updated

15 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Complicit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Sep. 2021.

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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


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