Are Reticent and Reluctant Synonyms?

Recent posts have been about misused and misunderstood words, inspired by the American Heritage Dictionaries* editors.Here’s another to add to your vocabulary: reticent and reluctant.

Are reticent and reluctant synonyms? Well…yes and no. Remember my rant about decimate? The term that technically refers to removing one/tenth of a given population has evolved in usage as a synonym for annihilate. Usage has confused the word reticent, too.

Reticent people are reserved, especially among strangers. They may be reluctant to talk about themselves, but that doesn’t make them reluctant in all things.

So don’t apply the adjective reticent when you mean reluctant. I am not reticent, but I’m reluctant to gamble large amounts of money in a casino.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention remiss, another word often confused with reluctant. Remiss means negligent or careless. If you’re remiss in your job duties, it may be because you’re reluctant to perform the work, but the two words aren’t synonymous. 

*Houghton Mifflin Books, 2004:100 words almost everyone confuses & misuses

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