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 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, "The Post-Trump Crack-Up of the Evangelical Community," 16 Mar. 2021 The front man Johnny Rotten would hang off the mic stand like a licentious scarecrow; the new bassist Sid Vicious, his long limbs clanging, was an icon continually in the process of dismantling itself—a human Jean Tinguely sculpture. James Parker, The Atlantic, "What Happened When the Sex Pistols Threw a Christmas Party," 6 Mar. 2020 Some videos, which have over 400,000 views on YouTube, are also overly licentious and sexist. Manavi Kapur, Quartz India, "In India, the coronavirus outbreak has inspired some racist and sexist music," 10 Mar. 2020 The original, with Swayze kissing Moore’s neck, both of them naked, would have been too licentious to reproduce. Anakwa Dwamena, The New York Review of Books, "Ghana’s Handmade Movie Poster Boom," 18 Jan. 2020 Javier provides dual amusement as the insecure satyr and licentious Mr. D., while Steele brings a palpable warmth to her turn as the loving mom. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical': Theater Review," 17 Oct. 2019 And in 2004, most 20-year-old women did not want to be Mirandas (smart, cynical, ambitious, abrasive) or Charlottes (ditzy, sweet, old-fashioned, pretty) or even Samanthas (licentious, power hungry, slightly narcissistic). Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, "Confessions of a Recovering Wannabe Carrie Bradshaw," 5 June 2018 There are a few excellent prints here of Mr. Araki’s densely colored floral photographs — which, in contrast to Robert Mapplethorpe’s elegant still lifes of tulips and calla lilies, take a licentious up-close view of pistils and stamens. Jason Farago, New York Times, "A Maverick of Japanese Photography, Bound Tight to Ritual," 28 Feb. 2018 Its Roman successor, the Saturnalia, combined licentious behavior with mistletoe. Amanda Foreman, WSJ, "The Ancient Magic of Mistletoe," 19 Dec. 2017

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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Time Traveler for licentious

Time Traveler

The first known use of licentious was in 1535

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Statistics for licentious

Last Updated

28 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Licentious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for licentious



English Language Learners Definition of licentious

formal : sexually immoral or offensive


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

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Comments on licentious

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