"Illicit" means illegal. It is a great word. Often used to report on crimes, particularly those of a salacious nature, "illicit" is used to refer to activities which are against the law. Typically, "illicit" is used to describe crimes such as prostitution, or gambling, or other crimes in which there is often an immoral conduct connotation.
"Elicit" sounds exactly the same as "illicit," but its meaning is much different. "Elicit" means to evoke, to seek out and gain information sought. Suppose an undercover police officer poses as a prostitute in order to catch those who are attempting to hire such persons for illegal activities. He or she will want to catch the perpetrator eliciting the illegal services. It is key to the case that the perpertrator be caught "eliciting" the illegal behavior.
It is fair to say "elicit" and "illicit" could be easily used in the same sentence, but in my experience reading newspapers, that rarely happens. For example, one might write "the man was arrested for eliciting illicit activities from an undercover police officer."
It ought to be against the law for a newspaper to use "elicit" incorrectly in the place of "illicit," and vice versa. But it's not, and with autocorrect now an entrenched but often incorrect component of written communications, the confusion will only get worse.
I can accept the misuse of illicit and elicit better than I can accept the improper use of "except" when clearly referring to the word "accept." Why? Because "illicit" and "elicit" are pronounced the same and they're not as well known in society as "accept" and "except."
"Accept" means to receive or to take something offered. When we join the military, we accept the military's right to give us orders and require us to meet obligations we have agreed to fulfill. When death of a loved one comes, we learn to accept their passing and move on. When someone offers an apology, we accept it from them.
"Except" is not even pronounced the same as "accept." The first syllable of the two words is correctly pronounced differently. It's basically "ek" versus "ak" when saying the two words.
"Except" means something has been or is being excluded. For example, "everyone who completed their course work will graduate this summer, except those who failed to maintain a passing average."
My taking exception to the exceptionally bad use of "except" will probably fall on deaf ears, much as the distinction between "except" and "accept" does. But futility has never stopped me from carping about misused words.
© 2014, Jim “Pappy” Moore,
All Rights Reserved.