Monday, May 8, 2017

Illicit vs. Elicit

I could scarcely believe my eyes when The New York Times, which really ought to know better, quoted a student at the University of California, Berkeley, as saying:
            “A lot of the speakers whom they invited were done just to
illicit a reaction, to cause a negative outburst.” 

That ludicrously erroneous illicit was changed to elicit in the online posting, but how it ever got past copy editors into the print edition boggles the mind. 

Elicit is a verb, dating to the 1640s in English, derived from the Latin elicitus, past participle of elicere, “to draw forth, evoke.” 

Illicit, is an adjective, which goes all the way back to 1500, from the Old French Illlicite, meaning “illegal, forbidden,” from the Latin illicitus, which also means “not lawful.”

The two words are very similar in pronunciation, which no doubt accounts for their confusion with each other. Nonetheless, such an egregious misuse makes one wonder if copy editors are still employed at The New York Times. 

Illicit is only one of many adjectives that have been used to refer to The Bard of Buffalo Bayou. A few of the many others are immoral, obscene, repugnant, ridiculous, odious, and abhorrent. 

           There was a young lady named Bisset,
            Whose films were somewhat explicit.
                        When one went a bit far,
                        It was labeled with “R,”
            And the censors pronounced it illicit.

            The response that this did elicit
            From the highly indignant Miss Bisset
                        Was “Chacun à son goût,
                        If it’s too hot for you,
            The solution is simply to miss it.”                       

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