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Burma and the vocabulary of reluctance

That we don't want to do something doesn't mean that we won't eventually do it.

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Have you noticed how when you invite someone to something, and he or she responds, "Yes, I'd love to," you have to wait a millisecond to be sure that's the complete answer, and the person isn't going to say, "Yes, I'd love to, but..."? Polite discourse spends a lot of time in the conditional. Conversely, "No, I'd never do that," sometimes becomes "No, I'd never do that unless..." To be reluctant to do something is not always the same as not doing it.

Reluctance has, alas, all too tragically been in the news recently. The Burmese government has been willing to accept international aid for its cyclone-stricken citizens, but reluctant to accept international aid workers to distribute it.

English has rather a rich vocabulary of reluctance, with a number of synonyms: to be averse, disinclined, hesitant to do something, or even to be loath to do it. This last one sounds particularly ferocious, related to concepts of fearsomeness, loathsomeness, ugliness, and, of course, the related transitive verb loathe, meaning to hate.

Reluctance, rooted in , to struggle against, suggests active resistance. That same root is present in the relentlessly fatalistic-sounding ineluctable, which means at bottom "that against which there is no point in struggling."

Hesitation and the words related to it are built on the ideas of irresolution, uncertainty, indecisiveness, and of a stammering tongue.


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