December 19th, 2007
Do in let's do / reticent / first-generation
by Barbara Wallraff
Thomas Armbrecht, of Madison, Wis., writes: “Is it correct to say, ‘Let’s do go to town today’ -- or anything else beginning with ‘Let’s do’ and then a verb? Obviously, the ‘do’ isn’t needed.”
Dear Thomas: “Do” is a remarkably handy little word with many jobs to, um, do. One of these is adding emphasis -- its function in your example sentence, which is perfectly correct. Nonetheless, you’re right to wonder whether the “do” there is redundant with the main verb, “go.” “Let’s do” can be a complete thought, after all, and in this case it would mean the same thing as “Let’s go to town.”
Ruth-Ellen Cohen, of Bangor, Maine, writes: “Many people use the word ‘reticent’ in place of ‘reluctant.’ I don’t believe the two are interchangeable. According to the dictionary, ‘reticent’ means ‘uncommunicative.’ So I would think that saying someone is ‘reticent to comment’ is redundant. I would also think that saying someone is ‘reticent’ to go somewhere or do something makes no sense, since the word pertains only to speech. Am I correct?”
Dear Ruth-Ellen: Today seems to be the day for redundancy questions. Your point of view is certainly the traditional one -- for good reason. As the New Oxford American Dictionary explains, “reticent” comes from the Latin prefix “re- (expressing intensive force)” plus the verb “tacere ‘be silent.’” Etymologically, the word is about keeping quiet.
Nancy Colina, of Grosse Ile, Mich., writes: “What exactly does ‘first-
generation’ mean? Is it the person who came over to this country from elsewhere, or the child of that person who is in the first generation born in this country?”
Dear Nancy: Annoyingly enough, both of those uses are considered correct. Wondering which meaning was the original one, I looked up “first-generation” in the older dictionaries in my library. The earliest to include the term at all, from the 1960s, gives both of them.
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