This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

not reticent: a rant

There's been a battle fought - and, most people say, lost - and I've only just noticed it.

An interior design magazine first alerted me to the carnage. Articles repeatedly said things like: 'Mary was reticent to tear out the kitchen cupboards because they were still solid.'

The third time I came across this misuse of the word reticent I stopped buying the magazine. This entirely solved the problem.

But then, the other week, I came across this in a British national newspaper:

'She has also noticed that fern modules (or plugs) are reticent to grow because micropropagated ferns produce lots of crown, but little root.' 

And then, as if that wasn't bad enough, in a much-praised book, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, I found: 

...he's normally reticent to show affection in public.

And when I look online I find that in America this use of reticent instead of reluctant has been going on for so long that it the meaning even has a perch in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Should I give up and accept that reticent now means reluctant?

Probably, except that 1) reticent is a jolly useful word, and 2) every time I come across reticent used instead of reluctant I feel as if I've witnessed someone treading on a hamster.

Reticent is to do with deciding not to speak. That's all. People may even be reticent without being reluctant if they're keeping quiet through duty or fear.

That's why the word reticent is precious, you see: sometimes people are reticent, but not reluctantly so.

Now, you're not the sort of person who goes around treading on hamsters.

Are you?

Word To Use Today But Only If It Doesn't Endanger Hamsters: reticent. This word comes from the Latin retic─ôre, to keep silent.

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