Column: Always use the rite word


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Have you ever seen a picture of yourself from an unusual angle? You look at the photo and realize, “Who is that person? Oh, that’s me. I do not like what I see.” You hardly ever see the back of your head and, when you do, you vow to wear hats from that point forward. Or maybe you realize your favorite jacket is doing you zero favors when it comes to the looks department. In fact, this jacket makes you look like a hippopotamus in a stupid jacket.

Using the wrong word is kind of like that, even when it’s the trendy thing to do. Sometimes, we unknowingly use a popular buzzword regardless of whether or not we understand its meaning. I’d like to discuss a trend I’ve noticed when it comes to the use of the word “reticent.” People are starting to use reticent when they should be using “reluctant.” Let’s get it straight, shall we? 

Reluctant is an adjective that means unwilling to act. We get this English word from the Latin “re” (against) and “luctari” (to struggle or wrestle). So, reluctant literally means to struggle or wrestle against something. It has to do with action. Here’s an example: Because Steve always took good care of his things, he was reluctant to spring for the AppleCare plan on his new iPhone.

Reticent is an adjective that means disinclined to speak. Breaking it down into the original Latin, we get “re” (in this case, “re” means “once more” or “again”) and “tacere” (be silent). Reticent, therefore, means “to be silent again.” We get the word “tacit” from this Latin word. Here’s an example: Since Sheila’s such a humble person, she’s reticent to comment on her recent promotion.

Lately, people have begun using “reticent” when they mean to say “reluctant.” For example, I’ve heard someone say something to the effect of “I’m reticent to RSVP for Glen’s birthday party this year, especially if he’s going to do his idiotic magic act again.” In this case, “reticent” is not the right word to use. Instead, stick with “reluctant.” Also, go to Glen’s party; you’re one of his only friends.

Just like wearing a trendy jacket could actually backfire on your high-fashion status, using a trendy word in the wrong way is a bad idea. The next time you’re in the dressing room at your local clothier, don’t be reluctant to take a picture of yourself in the mirror from a crazy angle — you don’t want to end up on the worst-dressed list in your local newspaper.