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See also: réticence



The noun is borrowed from Middle French réticence (act of keeping silent, silence; reserve; aposiopesis) (modern French réticence (tight-lippedness, reticence)), or derived from its etymon Latin reticentia (act of keeping silent, silence; aposiopesis), from reticēns (keeping silent, reticent, silent; keeping secret, concealing) + -ia (suffix forming feminine abstract nouns).[1] Reticēns is the present active participle of reticeō (to keep silent; to keep secret, conceal), from re- (prefix meaning ‘again’) + taceō (to be silent, keep quiet) (possibly ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *tak- or *tHk-). The English word is cognate with Italian reticenza (reticence), Portuguese reticência, Spanish reticencia (reticence; reluctance).[1]

The verb is derived from the noun.[2]



reticence (countable and uncountable, plural reticences)

  1. (uncountable, also figuratively) Avoidance of saying or reluctance to say too much; discretion, tight-lippedness; (countable) an instance of acting in this manner.
    Synonyms: reserve, taciturnity
    • 1640, I. S. [pseudonym; John Price], “Of the Great Reuerence of Ancient Christian Emperors and Kings to the Pope”, in Anti-Mortonvs or An Apology in Defence of the Church of Rome. Against the Grand Imposture of Doctor Thomas Morton, Bishop of Durham. [], [Saint-Omer, France: English College Press], OCLC 1166338558, page 457:
      [Y]ou paſſe ouer their teſtimonies, & his whole diſcourſe out of them, with a fraudulent reticence of the particulars, and thinke to be euen with them, making vp by ſcoffing, what you cannot by arguing, [...]
    • 1824, Francis Plowden, “Of Tithes and Other Church Property”, in Human Subordination: Being an Elementary Disquisition Concerning the Civil and Spiritual Power and Authority, [], Paris; London: [] W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, [], OCLC 22550848, page 125:
      It must not be numbered among the obliviscences and reticenses of the candid reader, that this man, who had been [...] declared by the head of the Church of Christ, in a public instrument for the instruction and direction of all the faithful, that he was a man of very unsound doctrine, and guilty of many outrages against the holy see, should have been selected and appointed the sole plenipotentiary, delegate, and commissioner, on the part of the Church of Rome, to effect the desirable object of her reunion with the Church of England.
    • 1891, Oscar Wilde, chapter IX, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, London; New York, N.Y.; Melbourne, Vic.: Ward Lock & Co., OCLC 34363729, page 174:
      The painter's absurd fits of jealousy, his wild devotion, his extravagant panegyrics, his curious reticences—he understood them all now, and he felt sorry.
    • 1896 May 2, Elbert Hubbard, “The Study”, in The Journal of Koheleth: Being a Reprint of the Book of Ecclesiastes with an Essay [], East Aurora, N.Y.: The Roycroft Printing Shop, OCLC 1178067, page XX:
      The greatest egotist has his reticenses. It is only during the sessions of sweet silent thought that a man can summon his soul to judgment.
    • 1897, Bram Stoker, chapter IX, in Dracula, New York, N.Y.: Modern Library, OCLC 688657546, page 124:
      He would not give me any further clue. You must not be angry with him, Art, because his very reticence means that all his brains are working for her good. He will speak plainly enough when the time comes, be sure.
    • 1942, Joseph A[lois] Schumpeter, “The Classical Doctrine of Democracy”, in Capitalism, Socialism & Democracy, 5th edition, New York, N.Y.: Routledge, published 1976 (2003 printing), →ISBN, part IV (Socialism and Democracy), page 263:
      We find the same evasions and reticences and the same trick of producing opinion by reiterated assertion that is successful precisely to the extent to which it avoids rational argument and the danger of awakening the critical faculties of the people.
    • 1970, Armando Cortesão, Pizzigano’s Chart of 1424 (Revista da Universidade de Coimbra; XXIV; Série Separatas (Agrupamento de Estudos de Cartografia Antiga (Portugal)); 40), Coimbra, Portugal: Junta de Investigações do Ultramar-Lisboa, OCLC 34090417, page 19:
      That is why I regret that my arguments have not convinced many scholars, as shown by the reticenses of some here present.
    • 2007, W[illiam] E[dward] B[urghardt] Du Bois, “Apology”, in Henry Louis Gates Jr., editor, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois), Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page xxxiii:
      But in my own experience, autobiographies have had little lure; repeatedly they assume too much or too little: too much in dreaming that one's own life has greatly influenced the world; too little in the reticences, repressions and distortions which come because men do not dare to be absolutely frank.
    • 2015, Matthew B. Crawford, “Introduction: Attention as a Cultural Problem”, in The World beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, New York, N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, →ISBN, page 9:
      Even if we do not converse with others, our mutual reticence is experienced as reticence if our attention is not otherwise bound up, but is rather free to alight upon one another and linger or not, because we ourselves are free to pay out our attention in deliberate measures.
  2. (uncountable) A silent and reserved nature.
    Synonyms: introversion, reservation; see also Thesaurus:shyness
    Antonyms: ostentation; see also Thesaurus:talkativeness
    • 1870 April–September, Charles Dickens, “The Dawn Again”, in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1870, OCLC 505123078, page 178:
      The determined reticence of Jasper, however, was not to be so approached. Impassive, moody, solitary, resolute, so concentrated on one idea, and on its attendant fixed purpose, that he would share it with no fellow-creature, he lived apart from human life.
  3. (uncountable) Followed by of: discretion or restraint in the use of something.
    • 1870 May 21, “The Art of Reticence”, in The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, volume XXIX, number 760, London: [] Spottiswoode and Co., [], OCLC 970918069, page 667, column 2:
      This is the reticence of temperament, and we see it in children from quite an early age—those children who are trusted by the servants, and are their favourites in consequence, because they tell no tales; but it is a disposition that may become dangerous unless watched, and that is always liable to degenerate into falsehood.
    • 1896 May 21, “McKinley’s Silence”, in The Nation, volume LXII, number 1612, New York, N.Y.: Nation Associates, ISSN 0027-8378, OCLC 772147020, page 390, columns 1–2:
      We learn from the Tribune that "the reticence of self-respect" is the proper and polite name for Major [William] McKinley's refusal to answer any question touching his position on the money question. [...] [I]t now appears that the term is also available for the use of candidates for high office, who do not wish to let people know what they think until they are nominated, while it is still not available for small private places.
  4. (uncountable) Often followed by to: hesitancy or reluctance (to do something).
    Synonyms: disinclination, hesitation
    • 2000, Mario A. Monge; Rubén Guevara, “Coffee”, in Agriculture in Alliance with Nature: CATIE’s Recent Advances in Breeding and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources (Serie Técnica, Informe Técnico; no. 315), Turrialba, Costa Rica: Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza, →ISBN, page 4:
      According to Anthony & Astorga (1997), the CATIE collection suffers the loss of some 250 individuals every year, which amounts to a general genetic erosion rate of 3% (4.8% for the wild genotypes). The expense of maintaining these collections, as well as the reticence of sponsors to finance such activities, are perhaps the most important factors affecting this erosion.
    • 2002, Jon P. Mitchell, Ambivalent Europeans: Ritual, Memory and the Public Sphere in Malta, London; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, page 68:
      The honour of a household is inextricably linked to the reputation of the women who live there [...]. This reputation is sealed by their public display of shame, as manifest in a reticense towards appearing in public places.
    • 2009, Yoko Ogawa, chapter 2, in Stephen Snyder, transl., The Housekeeper and the Professor, New York, N.Y.: Picador, →ISBN, pages 26–27:
      Any reticence or wariness I felt for the Professor vanished the moment I saw him with my son, and from that point on I trusted him completely.
  5. (countable, uncountable, rhetoric, obsolete) Synonym of aposiopesis (an abrupt breaking-off in speech)
    • 1786, Comte de Cagliostro [i.e., Alessandro Cagliostro]; Parkyns Macmahon, “Refutation of Madame de la Motte’s Memorial in that Part which Concerns the Comte de Cagliostro”, in Memorial, or Brief, for the Comte de Cagliostro, Defendant: against the King’s Attorney-General, Plaintiff: In the Cause of the Cardinal de Rohan, Comtesse de la Motte, and Others. [], London: [] J[ohn] Debrett, []; J. Macklew, []; J. de Boff, [], OCLC 81111333, pages 76–77:
      If the Comteſſe de la Motte, contented to load me with opprobrious language, and to make uſe of inſidious reticences, does not accept of this formal challenge, I muſt declare to her, once for all, that I ſhall give to all her reticences, to all her obloquy, paſt, preſent, and to come, an anſwer very laconic, perfectly clear, moſt energetic, [...] —Mentiris impudentissime [you lie shamelessly].
    • 1852, Adadus Calpe [pseudonym; Antonio Diodoro de Pascual], chapter III, in Antonio Diodoro de Pascual and Henry Edgar, transl., The Two Fathers. [] Part First: The Ruins of the Paraclete, New York, N.Y.: Stringer & Townsend, [], OCLC 37611275, page 35:
      Oh! M. de Vieux, this elixir, and the gallows, will suit you … that you may know what it is to enjoy … / He was going to continue, or to be silent, after these reticenses, but Kant interrupted one or both of these things, [...]

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Related terms[edit]



reticence (third-person singular simple present reticences, present participle reticencing, simple past and past participle reticenced)

  1. (transitive, rare) To deliberately not listen or pay attention to; to disregard, to ignore.
    Synonym: pass over
    • 1833 May, “Hayward’s Translation of Goethe’s “Faust””, in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, volume VII, number XLI, London: James Fraser [], OCLC 73210235, page 532, column 1:
      [Percy Bysshe] Shelley, a true vates, was called upon by their divine influence to render some choice passages from this very Faust, which, from confessed inability, [Francis Leveson-]Gower had left unattempted in his precious version, and some which from other motives he had purposely reticensed.
    • 1985, Stanley Elkin, Stanley Elkin’s The Magic Kingdom, New York, N.Y.: E[dward] P[ayson] Dutton, →ISBN, page 135:
      It was because he didn't think he'd be recognized that he so ostentatiously lay in ambush—lost and shrouded, a burrowed lay-low, a smoke screen, anonymous, covert, sequestered, disguised and reticenced and secluded, an inference, a stowaway.
    • 1990, Intelligent Systems: A Framework for the Future: [], Washington, D.C.: Special Libraries Association, published 1991, →ISBN, page 3:
      [I]n the future, as we give these programs more and more direct control as we lose some of the general, reticenced fear of relying on computational technology, more and more of these errors—and more and more serious errors are going to occur
      An adjective use.
    • 1996, Michael Carter, “Pyrite Island”, in Broken Noses and Metempsychoses (Gathering of the Tribes; 8), New York, N.Y.: A Gathering of the Tribes/Fly By Night Press, →ISBN, page 10:
      Aslant mocha—steam swirling, / Daylight searing the blinds / You reticenced that spiky truth: / A rival gorilla in the mists / And I gulped as a giddy spring magic / Turned to something aping madness; [...]

Alternative forms[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 reticence, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2010; “reticence, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ † reticence, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2010