Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Taciturn and Reticent

Don Vaughn, who writes a column on language for the Starkville (Mississippi) Daily News, raised the question of the difference between taciturn and reticent today. Here is what he wrote: has the primary meaning of taciturn as “inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation” and the primary meaning of reticent as “disposed to be silent or not to speak freely; reserved.” Do I have the difference between inclined and disposed correct?”

“If someone is inclined, he/she has a mental tendency or preference (an inclination). But with disposed, the person is showing or putting forth that mental tendency or preference (inclination). Someone inclined is not necessarily showing that mental tendency or preference, but someone disposed is acting out that tendency.”

“Getting back to taciturn and reticent, a taciturn individual is inclined to be silent or at least unwilling to converse, but someone who is reticent is going one step beyond being inclined to silence by actually demonstrating the inclination to be silent or reserved.”

My reaction is that Don may be reading too much into single words in these dictionary entries. They were probably written by different people at different times and have no connection to each other. The difference between the sense of inclined and disposed are, however, very close to the difference in the meanings of taciturn and reticent. The difference between the meanings of these two words is is a matter of intention.

A person who is taciturn is either quiet by nature or for no particular reason; a reticent person is holding something back intentionally. That is why this word is so often confused with hesitate “to hold back” while taciturn is not. A reticent person is hesitant to speak for fear of the consequence while a taciturn person is simply that way for no particular reason.

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