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 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 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, 6 Mar. 2020 Some videos, which have over 400,000 views on YouTube, are also overly licentious and sexist. Manavi Kapur, Quartz India, 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, 18 Jan. 2020

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

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The first known use of licentious was in 1535

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Cite this Entry

“Licentious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of licentious

: 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

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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