Printable Version
Pronunciation: lai-sen-chês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Totally dissolute, extremely immoral, morally degenerate, lascivious, lewd, sexually indulgent.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an adjective derived from license (British spelling licence). We normally would not think of licentiousness when applying for a hunting, fishing, or driver's license, yet today's word comes from the same license, as the Word History will show. The adverb is licentiously.

In Play: We usually associate today's word with sexual promiscuity, but we should remember that any kind of extreme moral degeneracy qualifies for this term: "Izzy Badenoff was finally arrested for his licentious financial dealings that left his family, the city, and most of the banks in town bankrupt." Throughout history certain places have acquired a reputation for licentiousness; Sodom and Gomorrah were only the beginning: "Phil Anders spent the past ten years in licentious living—gambling, drinking, and chasing women in Las Vegas."

Word History: This word came to English, as usual, via French from Latin licentiosus "taking (too) much license, unrestrained". The Latin word was derived from licentia "freedom, liberty, license". The current meaning of this word arose from the implication of being allowed too much freedom, regardless of the law. A regular license, of course, allows the legal freedom to carry out a specific activity, such as hunting or driving. The noun came from the verb licere "to be allowed, be lawful," whose root we see in the English borrowings licit and illicit. We find the remains of the Proto-Indo-European base leik- "to offer, bargain" only in the two remaining Baltic languages, Latvian, where likt means "put", and Lithuanian, where atlikti, with the prefix at-, means "carry out, fulfill".

Dr. Goodword,

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