Should it be indict or indite? They’re two words that sound the same but you’ll usually encounter one of them when something has gone awry.
When someone is facing accusations of a crime, would a grand jury indict or indite them?
In my real job, I write plenty of crime-related stories, so I encounter one of these words quite often.
Indict and indite are homophones. They’re words that are pronounced the same way but spelled differently and have different meanings.
So let’s look at the two words.
This is the word you’re familiar with, even if you rarely see it spelled out. It’s pronounced “in-dyte,” just as the other word is spelled.
To indict someone means “to formally accuse of or charge with a serious crime.” It dates back to Middle English and came from Anglo-Norman French via Latin’s indicere, which meant to “proclaim.”
The C stays silent, which only makes the word easier to pronounce.
When someone is accused of committing a felony, the state must present evidence to a grand jury. The grand jury will then decide whether there is sufficient “probable cause” to issue an indictment.
Someone being indicted does not mean they are guilty. They must still go through a trial before they are convicted of the crime with which they’re charged.
But its meaning is different. To indite means to write or put something in writing. A secondary meaning, listed as “obsolete,” means to dictate.
The word is rarely used these days, so if you see it and there’s any mention of a court case, you may well be seeing an error having been committed by the writer. In that case, of course, he would have used a homophone of the word he should have used.
But try not to wish for too serious a criminal complaint to be filed against him.
Sooner or later, we all make mistakes!