Thursday, December 07, 2006

Word of the day: Reactionary.

Reactionary is often used to mean "reacting to events" or "changing often." That is nearly EXACTLY opposite to what the word means.

- an extreme conservative; an opponent of progress or liberalism
- A reactionary (sometimes: reactionist, or regressive) is someone who seeks to restore conditions to those of a previous era. The political attitude of a reactionary is reactionism or regressivism. Reaction is always presented against something that it opposes.
When people see too much change going on, they'll say, "We don't want to be reactionary." When that's exactly what they do want.

I admit that the derivation of the word is confusing, but it's annoying to me how words can get a connotation that is the opposite of what they mean. Who was in charge when "flammable" and "inflammable" became the same thing? That's a mess too.


TheGirard said...

who needs "Word a Day" when you have Chuck Kallenbach

Major Rakal said...

Assuming your question about "flammable"/"inflammable" wasn't purely rhetorical, I have a comment on that situation. "Inflammable" is the "original" and much older form of the word, related to "enflame", "inflammatory", and "inflammation".

The use of the later form "flammable" was promoted by the NFPA in the early 20th century to avoid potential misunderstandings that could arise from the belief that the "in-" prefix meant "not" (as it does in "incompetent", "inadvisable", etc.).

So it's not so much a question of the meanings "becoming the same thing" as it is an attempt to phase out the use of the older term in favor of one that isn't open to confusion.