Sunday, August 29, 2010

Channeling Norm Crosby

Learning language is often like a huge game of telephone. We hear someone else put something in a certain way, and we say it that way too, passing on the usage to others and reinforcing it. When it works right this process teaches us about usage and builds living language. But sometimes it goes off the rails. We don't generally stop and check an authoritative source to see whether the usage is correct. In print, that's what editors are for.

A misusage becoming increasingly common in street speech and creeping into print is the substitution of "reticent" for "reluctant," seen in the Courier here and here in the last week.

"Reticent" means "inclined to silence" or "uncommunicative in speech." Try plugging that meaning into this phrase: "Solop is reticent to narrow the potential field of winners." This construction is common, but it's nonsense. (Red flag: "Reticent to" is always wrong.)

Watch out for situations where two words sound similar and have related meanings. In this case "reticent" can be taken to mean "reluctant to speak," and away you go.