vicarious

adjective

vi·​car·​i·​ous vī-ˈker-ē-əs How to pronounce vicarious (audio)
və-
1
: experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another
a vicarious thrill
2
a
: serving instead of someone or something else
b
: that has been delegated
vicarious authority
3
: performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another : substitutionary
a vicarious sacrifice
4
: occurring in an unexpected or abnormal part of the body instead of the usual one
vicarious menstruation manifested by bleeding from the nose
vicariously adverb
vicariousness noun

Did you know?

Vicarious Has Latin Roots

If you act in someone's stead, you take his or her place, at least temporarily. The oldest meaning of vicarious, which dates to the first half of the 1600s, is "serving instead of someone or something else." The word vicarious derives from the Latin noun vicis, which means "change," "alternation," or "stead." Vicis is also the source of the English prefix vice- (as in "vice president"), meaning "one that takes the place of."

Example Sentences

I am a vicarious eater, often preferring a description of a meal to eating it. I hoard the Wednesday food section of the New York Times, savoring it as my late-night reading, finishing always with the restaurant review. Anne-Marie Slaughter, Commonweal, 14 June 2002 Most people caged in the humdrum routines of modern life are eager for vicarious glimpses of pain, joy, and especially vitality. Robert Jackall et al., Image Makers, 2000 There is an immense sub-middle class with enough money to preserve it from rancorous envy of the rich, but not enough to preserve it from boredom; it needs vicarious compensations and manages to find them in the gossip columns. Aldous Huxley, The Olive Tree, 1937 To give himself the vicarious illusion of companionship, he fell back on letters. Amy Lowell, John Keats, 1925 By means of ferocious jokes … he could vent his hatred of pioneer life and all its conditions, those conditions that were thwarting his creative life; he could, in this vicarious manner, appease the artist in him … Van Wyck Brooks, The Ordeal of Mark Twain, 1920
Recent Examples on the Web Here are nine movies about the vicarious thrill of victory and the secondhand agony of defeat. BostonGlobe.com, 26 Jan. 2023 The vicarious sensation of soaring in this magical, inflatable vehicle—one puppeteer bounces the creature’s glowing tail several feet above his head—makes the entire audience clap with joy. Helen Shaw, The New Yorker, 6 Jan. 2023 Essential to that experience is getting swept up in the vicarious thrill of an unfamiliar team and its mundane drama. Calum Marsh, New York Times, 30 Dec. 2022 Where does the conscious seeking out of misery fit into a framework of thrill-seeking through vicarious experiences of gore and terror? Time, 28 Oct. 2022 So, there is pleasure to be had from these vicarious visits to Dodge, but are there any other benefits? Mathias Clasen, Smithsonian Magazine, 25 Oct. 2022 The judge did not immediately rule on the request to dismiss the second and third claims for contributory and vicarious infringement. Nancy Dillon, Rolling Stone, 7 Sep. 2022 On the other, such openness can overwhelm many of us through vicarious trauma, as psychologists Lisa McCann and Laurie Pearlman have noted. Rebecca Rozelle-stone, The Conversation, 6 Sep. 2022 The Game both understand this in their own way, modeling the vicarious pity and guilty delight that comes from watching events unfold in slasher films. Wired, 10 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vicarious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Latin vicarius, from vicis change, alternation, stead — more at week

First Known Use

1637, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of vicarious was in 1637

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Dictionary Entries Near vicarious

Cite this Entry

“Vicarious.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vicarious. Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition

vicarious

adjective
vi·​car·​i·​ous vī-ˈker-ē-əs How to pronounce vicarious (audio)
və-,
-ˈkar-
1
: serving or acting for another
2
: done or suffered for the benefit of someone else
a vicarious sacrifice
3
: sharing in someone else's experience through the use of the imagination or sympathetic feelings
vicarious joy
vicariously adverb
vicariousness noun

Medical Definition

vicarious

adjective
vi·​car·​i·​ous vī-ˈker-ē-əs, və-, -ˈkar- How to pronounce vicarious (audio)
: occurring in an unexpected or abnormal part of the body instead of the usual one
bleeding from the gums sometimes occurs in the absence of the normal discharge from the uterus in vicarious menstruation

Legal Definition

vicarious

adjective
vi·​car·​i·​ous vī-ˈkar-ē-əs How to pronounce vicarious (audio)
: imposed on one person in place of another see also vicarious liability at liability sense 2b
vicariously adverb
vicariousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on vicarious

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