Monday, 1 August 2016

The meaning of the Word Illicit - is it "unethical" (sic) to use it?

Over in a California suburb, Dealer Dave replying to comments on this blog obviously thinks the USA is the centre ('center' he would say) of the English-speaking world. In his 'Archaeologists Unethically Pursue Their Anticollecting Vendetta' (Friday, July 29, 2016) he states:
Please note that I do NOT subscribe to using the term "illicit" in this discussion. Referring to , the primary definition of "illicit" is 'not allowed by law: unlawful or illegal.' A secondary definition is 'involving activities that are not considered morally acceptable.' The manner in which archaeologists use the word "illicit" trades upon that secondary definition in a manner which in my opinion amounts to doublespeak: "language that can be understood in more than one way and that is used to trick or deceive people." [...] by deliberately and intentionally engaging in "doublespeak" to pursue their vendetta against collectors, archaeologists who use such terminology violate OUR standards of ethics, which I believe are also those which prevail among the general population.
In judging my use of language, he seems to ignore at least one thing. It's called "English", and that is the language I write in. In the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language the word illicit is defined in the way I and my colleagues use it (actually Welsh has been told this before but seems to be slow of learning).
Definition of illicit in English: Pronunciation: /ɪˈlɪsɪt/ adjective Forbidden by law, rules, or custom: illicit drugs, illicit sex
It is not in any way 'unethical' (sic) to use the term illicit sex in a way which does not mean illegal sex. I do not know about California, where it may be more prudish, but one can have illicit sex without breaking the law in my country. If two of my neighbours - both of them married - were surreptitiously having an illicit intimate relationship when their respective spouses were away it would not be nice for any of the four people involved (and their kids), but it's not illegal. The illicit sales of 'designer drugs' are possible because these narcotics do not figure on the lists of those that are forbidden by law.

But to come back to Dealer Dave, it seems the Jesuits neglected to tell him how to use a dictionary.  in the Miriam-Webster dictionary, the one definition is not 'primary' and the other a 'secondary' one. They are parallel definitions, even in Amerikan.

Those interested in the Classical world might like to reflect on the meaning that the root is the Latin  licere (which is also indirectly related to the root of 'licence' as in 'export licence' - which brings us back to what is licit in the transfer of ownership of portable antiquities (1970 UNESCO Convention Art. 3))

There is a reason why the good folk of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization called their 1970 Convention: "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property", and this is a word used in its other official versions (see this version).* Anyone with any deeper appreciation of what this Convention is about and for (in which group Mr Welsh's own writings demonstrate clearly he does not belong) will see why. This is because it talks of what is considered illicit by the international community in general (as opposed to what individual countries' laws stipulate as legal/illegal). There is a subtle difference, even if a non-European shopkeeper profiting through the transfer of ownership of cultural property does not have a sufficient understanding of the niceties of these issues to be able to appreciate it. Quite obviously, it is not in any way "unethical" to use the term illicit in the way it is clearly meant to be understood.

So who is using specious arguments, the Englishman writing English and the issue-dodging shopkeeper who's trying to pick holes in my use of my own language?

To put the record straight, what Dealer Dave's own weasel-wording labels "anticollecting"  is quite clearly targeting only bad practice in the antiquities trade. In other words the dodgy side of the commerce in antiquities. Perhaps Mr Welsh is implying that as far as he himself is concerned, there is no other antiquities trade?

Vignette: licere

*Mr Welsh might however be heartened to learn that only in the Russian version does the word used (незаконно) mean in effect illegal. But as I say, my blog is written in English.  

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