Printable Version
Pronunciation: ri-trækt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To draw or pull back. 2. Take back, withdraw, recant, disavow.

Notes: Retract is a member of a family of words borrowed from Latin and its granddaughter, French, like attract, distract, extract. They share the sense of drawing or pulling in different directions. The action noun for retract is retraction, though the lexical oddity retractation is also available. The active adjective is retractive and the passive, retractable.

In Play: Cats have retractable claws which they retract when not fighting or climbing trees, and airplanes have retractable landing gear which are retracted after takeoff. Abstract concepts may be retracted, too: "Robin Banks retracted his confession after talking to a lawyer."

Word History: Today's Good Word was lent to English from French rétracter "to retract", built on Latin retractus, the past participle of retrahere "to draw back, withdraw". Latin used the prefix re- in the sense of "back", probably a reduction of PIE wret- a metathesized version of vert- "to turn", which then merged with another word meaning "again". -Tractus comes from PIE tragh-, a variant of dragh- "draw, drag", the ultimate source of English draw and drag and source also of Sanskrit dhrajati "pulls", Polish droga "road", Russian doroga "road" and droshky "carriage", Welsh troed "foot", Irish troigh "foot", Breton troad "foot", and Hindi draiga "drag". (Now let's offer Mike Nichols an irretractable expression of gratitude for suggesting today's movable Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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