mid-15c., "eliciting," from Old French provocatif (15c.) and directly from Late Latin provocativus "calling forth," from provocat-, past-participle stem of Latin provocare (see provoke). Specifically "serving or tending to excite or stimulate sexual desire" from 1620s. Related: Provocatively; provocativeness. The earliest appearance of the word in English is as a noun meaning "an aphrodisiac" (early 15c.).