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I have no difficulty understanding the word elicit. The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines it as "to get information or a reaction from somebody, often with difficulty" but I still don't get what the writer means in this particular sentence. Can anybody explain it for me, please?

Whatever the pivotal moment may have been, it has occurred. That leaves the rest of the world with a challenge – how to deal with the United States in this new role of potential trade antagonist? It’s clearly a preoccupation of world leaders as they gather for the G20 summit in Hamburg this week. The occasion has elicited four distinct approaches that countries are trying: [...]

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/phillevy/2017/07/07/the-four-rs-of-taming-trump-on-trade/#57bf97b91f69

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    @haile Sometimes definitions provided by learner's dictionaries don't make sense when substituted word-for-word into a given sentence. That's when you have to either abstract the sense you think might fit, or look the word up in an dictionary for (native) speakers of English. TheFreeDictionary is a solid online dictionary, for instance, which shows several dictionary entries for each word. Another good dictionary is Wiktionary, I find, in spite of all the criticism it usually gets. – userr2684291 Jul 9 '17 at 11:34
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Luke Sawczak Jul 9 '17 at 20:27
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When X elicits Y from Z, X has caused Z to react in the manner Y. (The preposition by also works.)

The high tax bill elicited extreme anger from the CFO.

For your example:

"Whatever the pivotal moment may have been, it has occurred. That leaves the rest of the world with a challenge – how to deal with the United States in this new role of potential trade antagonist? It’s clearly a preoccupation of world leaders as they gather for the G20 summit in Hamburg this week. The occasion has elicited four distinct approaches that countries are trying:"

"The occasion" resolves to "the United States in this new role of potential trade antagonist". The last sentence is saying this fact is causing "four distinct approaches that countries are trying."

If the countries were specified, the last sentence would be "The occasion has elicited four distinct approaches by country A, country B, etc."

  • Although I don't think this is the most likely interpretation, I do think it's a possible one, so +1. – Luke Sawczak Jul 10 '17 at 1:02
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This is a good question; you've hit on a rarer use of elicit.

I think good dictionaries can bring us very close to this usage, but that a slight expansion or shift of the meaning is still in use. However, other users, such as Tᴚoɯɐuo, have given compelling reasons to accept it as standard, so you can make up your own mind.

My take is that it can be justified, but I wouldn't necessarily pick "elicit" first when to express what the author means here, which is "bring to light".


The Oxford English Dictionary lists three entries for elicit, which I'll quote in full and add emphasis:

elicit, v.

1. trans. To draw forth (what is latent or potential) into sensible existence. Also fig.

2. To bring out, educe (principles, truths, etc.) from the data in which they are implied. Also, to extract, draw out (information) from a person by interrogation; sometimes with object clause introduced by that.

3. To draw forth, evoke (a response, manifestation, etc.) from a person.

What is clear is that meanings (1) and (3) can't mean "bring to light". They both mean causing something, provoking it, triggering it — in short, bringing it "into sensible [=noticeable] existence". Now, the approaches of the various countries have existed long before the G20 "occasion".

However, LawrenceC below interprets the "occasion" as the U.S.'s posturing on environmental change, and reasons that this is what has "elicited" (caused) the other countries' approach. To my mind, "elicit" implies too spontaneous a reaction to mean this, but it isn't unreasonable.

That last definition in the OED, (2) is interesting, since it does correspond to the notion of "bringing something to light". The countries' approaches or positions existed already, and the G20 summit is the occasion that revealed them or drew them into focus.

My reservation is that in the definition, this applies to "principles, truths, information". So it would have to be by metonymy that it would apply to "approach". What was literally elicited was the information about or realization of their approaches.

That said, there are precedents for this metonymy. The OED itself gives an example where this usage is clearly the one intended:

1875   B. Jowett in tr. Plato Dialogues (ed. 2) V. 88   The matter in dispute should be clearly elicited from the contending parties.

So I have to retract my comments above, even if I think it's not the most typical use of "elicit".


P.S. But as a general note, keep questioning newspaper and magazine articles. They often have to write and edit in haste, particularly when an article appears on the same day of an event (July 7 in this case was the first day of the summit), and I can say from experience that something always gets through no matter how many proofreaders or editors look at something. And even if the usage turns out to be justified, you learn something new. :)

  • I concur that "to bring to the fore" is relatively rare when compared to the more usual meaning "to draw forth a response from someone". But the former meaning is well attested. It had its heyday in the mid 19th century. It is a little strange to find it in a Forbes article. Here is a very clear attestation where the verb is being used to mean "to bring into notice": books.google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 10 '17 at 0:18
  • I agree; that adds another precedent to the interpretation it seems the author of the article meant. – Luke Sawczak Jul 10 '17 at 1:02
  • And you will find this in Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language; being the authentic edition of Websters Unabridged Dictionary comprising the issues of 1864, 1879, and 1884: E-lic'it, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Elicited ; p. pr. & vb.n. ELICITING.] To draw out or entice forth ; to bring to light ; to bring out against the will ; to deduce by reason or argument ; as, to elicit truth by discussion. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 10 '17 at 2:22
  • It should be noted about the author of the Forbes article: received his Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University and has taught at Yale, Columbia, Virginia, and Georgetown. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 10 '17 at 2:29
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    I'll certainly give credence to Webster. But I've encountered poor English from well-educated people. ;) Besides, an article goes through proofreaders and editors with less education. (PhD theses do too.) Plus, everyone makes production errors even if their comprehension is great, and no number of eyes is enough to keep out every error. The second paragraph of that article ends with the phrase "during the eight years Obama administration"! Anyhow, this isn't to say you aren't right about "elicit", just that a fantastic education is no guarantee of perfect English... even if it were in English. – Luke Sawczak Jul 10 '17 at 2:49

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