This sentence from a blog post illustrates a pair of commonly confused words. Read the sentence and see whether you can figure out what I am referring to. Then hit the Read More button.
Although Rep. Renee Ellmers campaigned last fall as an ardent opponent of the new health care law passed by Congress, she was not reticent about taking advantage the health plan offered to members of Congress.
Did you spot reticent as the word that is incorrectly used? Writers sometimes confuse reticent, which means "disinclined to speak," with reluctant, which means "disinclined to take an action." The writer should have written that Ellmers "was not reluctant about taking advantage …"
This confusion is common enough that it has been drilled into the heads of many copy editors. Our antenna (which probably look like red pencils) twitch whenever we encounter the word reticent. We immediately start applying our training.
[UPDATE: As comments below point out, I used "antenna" as plural in the previous paragraph. The plural is spelled "antennae" or "antennas." I goofed.]
As I thought about the sentence on the blog post, it occurred to me that perhaps the writer wanted to say that Ellmers was not shy about taking advantage of the health plan. I can see that shy and reticent could come up together when a writer is scrolling through his mind's thesaurus, but reticent applies more aptly to someone who is reserved or taciturn. Shy, on the other hand, implies someone who might be timid or ill at ease with other people.
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.