li·​cen·​tious | \ lī-ˈsen(t)-shəs How to pronounce licentious (audio) \

Definition of licentious

1 : lacking legal or moral restraints especially : disregarding sexual restraints licentious behavior licentious revelers
2 : marked by disregard for strict rules of correctness

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Other Words from licentious

licentiously adverb
licentiousness noun

The Shared Roots of License and Licentious

License and licentious come ultimately from the same word in Latin, licentia, whose meanings ranged from "freedom to act" to "unruly behavior, wantonness." The Latin noun was itself derived from the verb licere "to be permitted." Though we are likely to associate license with the card that grants freedom or permission to operate a motor vehicle and licentious with sexual wantonness, in actuality, there is considerable semantic overlap between the two words. Poetic license refers to deviation from a (usually) literary norm for some purposeful effect. A person who takes license with something (or someone) engages in "abusive disregard for rules of personal conduct." Hence, the semantic range of license in English mirrors that of its Latin antecedent, suggesting either permission or transgression, depending upon the context. Licentious, on the other hand, always implies excessive, transgressive freedom, as is true of its immediate Latin source, licentiosus "unrestrained, wanton" (literally, "full of freedom").

Examples of licentious in a Sentence

a moralist who decried what she regarded as the licentious and corrupt culture of the entertainment industry
Recent Examples on the Web Underneath the uniform of Sister Hilda, Woolgar (who also played the licentious Lady Repton on Harlots) sports cascades of strawberry blonde waves. Lauren Hubbard, Town & Country, 17 Mar. 2022 In this outing, there is literally no forgiving the rich powerful playboy Duke, whose grossly licentious sexism was likely accepted endemic at the time, but is just despicable today. Bill Hirschman,, 14 Mar. 2022 This is just one of many physical violations that Ratajkowski recounts having incurred from the licentious men in her orbit. Carrie Battan, The New Yorker, 8 Nov. 2021 Every summer, stories of bad behavior -- usually linked to drinking, brawling and general licentious antics -- abound. Julia Buckley, CNN, 17 July 2021 The partial emptiness of office buildings gave Midtown a licentious, anything-goes feeling. New York Times, 12 June 2021 Descriptions of Nero as unhinged and licentious belong to a rhetorical tradition of personal attack that flourished in the Roman courtroom. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 7 June 2021 Like Bacchus himself, Pompeians had a licentious side, here resulting in a split in the exhibition path. Judith H. Dobrzynski, WSJ, 26 May 2021 How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation dispels the notion that support for the famously licentious Trump constituted any sort of aberration for the movement. Audrey Clare Farley, The New Republic, 16 Mar. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'licentious.' 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 licentious

1535, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for licentious

Latin licentiosus, from licentia

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The first known use of licentious was in 1535

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Last Updated

28 Mar 2022

Cite this Entry

“Licentious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for licentious


li·​cen·​tious | \ lī-ˈsen-chəs How to pronounce licentious (audio) \

Legal Definition of licentious

: disregarding legal restraints especially with regard to sexual relations arrested as a prostitute for licentious sexual intercourse

Other Words from licentious

licentiously adverb
licentiousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on licentious

Nglish: Translation of licentious for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of licentious for Arabic Speakers


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