Don’t Elicit Illicit Behavior

When Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood opened the 2013 Country Music Awards with a parody on Obamacare, one website posted:  “This isn’t the first time Paisley and Underwood have used a current controversy to illicit laughs and applause during a CMA opening.”

The musicians’ routine did just what they wanted it to do. It made people laugh. That is, it elicited or drew out the response they wanted. And there was nothing illicit or illegal about it. It was simply done to make people laugh over something that many people were already making fun of.

Like many other “confusables,” it’s common to see words that sound somewhat alike misused at every turn. Funny how such a small difference in spelling makes such a big difference in meaning.

  • Use elicit when you mean bring about, draw out, evoke, motivate.
  • Save illicit to describe something that is unlawful, criminal, or immoral. (If it helps, remember illicit starts with ill, so link that thought with ill advised.)

Speaking of immoral or illegal, do you know the difference between vice and vise?

  • Vice is a moral fault or failing, a bad habit. The vice squad is the department in law enforcement that is charged with enforcing laws against gambling, pornography, prostitution, and illegal drug and alcohol use. I often see writers talk about being “squeezed in a vice grip.” But that makes me conjure up the image of a team of cops closing in on a criminal who has drugs hidden in his pocket. A vice is the opposite of virtue–conforming to a certain standard of morality or a commendable quality or trait.
  • A vise is a tool that holds or grips things.

If your only vice is in misusing the word vice, consider yourself virtuous. But know that such misuse might elicit some snickering among those who know better!

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  1. Vice and Vise are two words that I understand clearly when reading it in context (within a sentence), but end up mixing them up all too often when viewed (or heard) on their own.

  2. I’d like to have heard those illicit laughs!

    But here’s a trap for you… in Australia, “vice” is both naughtiness AND the thing with jaws. I suspect it might be the same in the UK.

    It’s a crazy old language we’re speaking and writing, there’s no doubt about that. 😉

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