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

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 Media certainly was complicit in concocting a very, very glossy perception of this cohort. Eric Johnson, Recode, "Why Amazon is a ‘bully,’ and Facebook and Google are ‘the enemies of independent thought’," 3 Dec. 2018 For Moore and the Royals to defend Heimlich or attempt to clean up his image is to become complicit in his crime. Jon Tayler,, "There Is No Moral Justification for the Royals or Any Team to Sign Luke Heimlich," 26 June 2018 But while a handful of these governments are well-meaning, the majority of them are complicit in the chaos. Rachel Kleinfeld, WSJ, "The Violence Driving Migration Isn’t Just Gangs," 9 Nov. 2018 While Trump may not be able to be indicted while serving, some legal commentators say the Trump Foundation could be charged if it is found to have been complicit in crimes. Cindy Otis, Teen Vogue, "What the Manafort Verdict Means for President Donald Trump," 23 Aug. 2018 As one of the architects of the misogynist dystopia of Gilead, Serena is the epitome of complicit privilege. Emma Dibdin, Harper's BAZAAR, "Yvonne Strahovski Talks Serena Joy's "Ultimate Sacrifice" in The Handmaid's Tale Finale," 17 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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Statistics for complicit

Last Updated

12 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for complicit

The first known use of complicit was in 1861

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English Language Learners Definition of complicit

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

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