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Borrowed from Latin vicārius (vicarious, substituted), 17th century.



vicarious (not comparable)

  1. Delegated.
  2. Experienced or gained by taking in another person’s experience rather than through first-hand experience, such as through watching or reading.
    People experience vicarious pleasures through watching television.
    • 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson, chapter 10, in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde:
      The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified; I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous. When I would come back from these excursions, I was often plunged into a kind of wonder at my vicarious depravity.
  3. On behalf of others.
    The concept of vicarious atonement, that one person can atone for the sins of another, is found in many religions.
    • 1900, James Frazer, chapter 26, in The Golden Bough:
      As time went on, the cruel custom was so far mitigated that a ram was accepted as a vicarious sacrifice in room of the royal victim.
    • 1920, H. Rider Haggard, chapter III, in The Blue Curtains:
      In these, however, he had not much time to indulge, for a footman, still decked in the trappings of vicarious grief, opened the door with the most startling promptitude, and he was ushered upstairs into a small but richly furnished room.

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