May 11, 2011

I'm not reticent about "reticent to"

To be "reticent" means that one is quiet or unwilling to speak (that is, "reserved in speaking"); it can also be used for unwillingness to talk about a specific subject--as in "very private and reticent about the practice of personal religion"1. It originates in the Latin reticeo, "to not speak," and the adjective reticens. "Reticent" is typically used alone or in the phrase "reticent about."

Recently, "reticent to" has come to be used in place of "reluctant to" with respect to doing something.  "…He'd be reticent to hire a lawyer…"2  Maybe it sounds fancier to some people? See also here. The new use has been noted in two comprehensive dictionaries, Webster's Third New International and the Oxford English Dictionary--but that doesn't mean I have to think it's correct.

I think it's just plain wrong. And using "reticent to" to mean "reluctant to" opens up the possibility of redundant "reticents": I was recently told by someone that he was "reticent to speak about" something. He meant that he was "reluctant to speak about" x or that he was "reticent about" x; if he had been using "reticent" correctly rubber-lips would have been saying, "I'm reticent about not being reticent."

1. B. Hoey, Her Majesty: Fifty Regal Years (2002), cited in the online Oxford English Dictionary s.v. (that is, sub verbo or sub voce--"under the word") "reticent-adj."

2. Faye Kellerman, The Mercedes Coffin (2008), cited in the same online Oxford English Dictionary article.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much! Have you written anything on "take" and "bring"?