Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Origins - Better Left Unsaid

Tacit (TAS’-it) derives also from taceo.
Here is a man dying of cancer. He suspects what his disease is, and everyone else, of course, knows. Yet he never mentions the dread word, and no one who visits him ever breathes a syllable of it in his hearing. It is tacitly understood by all concerned that the word will remain forever unspoken.
(Such a situation today, however, may or may not be typical – there appears to be a growing tendency among doctors and families to be open and honest with people who are dying.)
Consider another situation:
An executive is engaging in extracurricular activities with his secretary. Yet during office time they are as formal and distant as any two human beings can well be. Neither of them ever said to the other, ‘Now, look here, we may be lover after five o’clock, but between nine and five we must preserve the utmost decorum, okay?’ Such speech, such a verbal arrangement, is considered unnecessary – so we may say that the two have a tacit agreement (i.e. nothing was ever actually said) to maintain a complete employer-employee relationship during office hours.
Anything tacit, then, is unspoken, unsaid, not verbalized. We speak of a tacit agreement, arrangement, acceptance, rejection, assent, refusal, etc. A person is never called tacit.
The noun is tacitness. (Bear in mind that you can transform any adjective into a noun by adding -ness, though in many cases there may be a more sophisticated, or more common, noun form.)
Changing the a of the root taceo to i, and adding the prefix re-, again, and the adjective suffix -ent, we can construct the English word reticent.
Someone is reticent who prefers to keep silent, whether out of shyness, embarrassment, or fear of revealing what should not be revealed. (The idea of ‘againness’ in the prefix has been lost in the current meaning of the word.)
We have frequently made nouns out of -ent adjectives. The noun form of reticent is reticence.
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