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Stop! Grammar Time!

Those who spend any amount of time around me know that I don’t suffer pretentious writers gladly. Like people who use curate indiscriminately; those who write “comprised of”; corporate types who think utilize makes them sound smarter than everybody else.

One I’ve been seeing a lot of lately is the use of reticent as a synonym for reluctant. It’s not.

reticence (noun) maintenance of silence; avoidance of saying too much or of speaking freely, reserve in speech; disposition to say little, taciturnity

reluctance (noun) the action of struggling against something; resistance, opposition

That’s what my copy of the OED says, anyway. But let’s not take their word for it. Let’s look at the Latin roots of each:

reticence reticentia, from reticere, keep silent, from RE- + tacere be silent

reluctance reluctari struggle against, from RE- + luctari to struggle

So. Not synonyms.

You can be reluctant to speak your mind (Hey! That’s what reticence means!), you can be reluctant to get married, you can be reluctant to get that colonoscopy your doctor recommended. But if you’re reticent, it can only mean one thing: keeping your mouth shut.

Sounds like good advice for all of us.



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