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Pavement pedantry: elicit or illicit?



In the case of elicit and illicit, two little letters make a whole lotta difference.

The two words get mistaken for each other quite often. Which is understandable since when spoken you can hardly tell them apart. But when you’re writing, choosing the wrong one will seriously muddle your meaning – with some interesting consequences.

So let’s clear up the confusion.

Elicit is a verb that means to evoke or draw out a reaction, response or statement. For example, ‘the people tried to elicit the truth, but all they elicited was lies’.

Illicit is an adjective that means forbidden by law, rules or customs. For example, ‘the illicit use of pharmaceutical drugs’.

So, ‘illicit drugs from a man’ and ‘elicit drugs from a man’ mean two very different things. The first is describing the drugs that came from the man as illegal. The second is a call to action to draw out drugs from a man. Which either means to ask him for drugs, or, well, do something that should be reserved for airport security.

Hope this clears up the conundrum.

If you have a suggestion for next week’s pavement pedantry, tweet us @Strangerfeed.


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