Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Over the weekend I spent some time with a dear friend and former colleague. In one of our long, rambling conversations, thoughts ricocheting off each other in every direction, she mispronounced "taciturn" as "taxi-turn." 

Since we happened to be walking along the streets of Glasgow, I immediately looked for a turning taxi. (Like our conversation, traffic seemed to be veering off in all directions, especially since the cars were driving on the "wrong" side of the road.) 

The conversation took another turn, and I lost the opportunity to correct her mispronunciation. (That's what friends do, isn't it?) Later I began to wonder if I had gotten it wrong all these years. Was I mispronouncing "taciturn," like when I once said to a friend that something or other had gone "ah-ree" (awry)? Naw, I had it right, I figured.

I didn't think about it again until last night, when "taciturn" (that is, temperamentally disinclined to talk) turned up in Daniel Mendelsohn's memoir The Elusive Embrace. A couple of pages later, he used the word "tacit." Then it struck me: Are taciturn and tacit related? 

My feeble brain never made the connection, but they are related, and come from similar Latin words: tacitus (tacit) and taciturnus (taciturn); tacit meaning: expressed or carried on without words. Silence. I get it now. 

Though I wasn't taciturn, you could say that our conversation had continued with my tacit approval of her pronunciation. 

(T-shirt pictured above, but not the seemingly taciturn model, available at

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