Word: licentious

Pronunciation: ly-SEN-shəs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition:

  1. promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters
  2. (archaic) disregarding accepted rules or conventions, especially in grammar or literary style

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Beata Maria, you know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.
– “Hellfire” (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996)

Oh yes, Disney worked the word “licentious” into a children’s movie. The first time I ever heard this word was when I was a kid and watched the 1996 animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The term “licentious” comes up about halfway through the movie in the song “Hellfire“: while conflicted between his religious virtues and his desire for the gypsy Esmeralda, Judge Claude Frollo tries to justify to himself that he is somehow above the sins committed by the “promiscuous” common people he hates (when in fact that hatred is exactly what makes him far worse than any of them).

A “licentious” person is someone who lacks principles in sexual matters. It also once referred to a disregard for rules and conventions. The word comes from the Latin adjective licentiosus “unrestrained”, which stems from the noun licentia, meaning “freedom”.

Because “licentious” has an archaic definition, it’s possible that its use in the medieval setting of a Disney movie was intended to have the tamer meaning of a general disrespect for society’s rules. Then again, given the context of the song and the second definition’s emphasis on writing techniques, it’s more likely the word was being used in its primary meaning of sexual depravity. Either way, this is a good adjective for describing people without moral principles. If your characters tend to be unscrupulous in their actions, you too may have a “licentious” crowd in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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