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    #1

    Question Is this correct use of 'reactionary'?

    Hello,

    I came across an email going around that is considered to be an urban legend. The following paragraph is from that mail:

    He talked about how some idiot tried to light his shoe on fire. Because of that, now everyone has to take off their shoes. A group of idiots tried to bring aboard liquid explosives. Now we can't bring liquids on board.. He says he's waiting for some suicidal maniac to pour liquid explosive on his underwear; at which point, security will have us all traveling naked! Every strategy we have is 'reactionary.'
    The definition of 'reactionary' in the Free Dictionary is :

    adj. Characterized by reaction, especially opposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative.

    n. pl. re·ac·tion·ar·ies An opponent of progress or liberalism; an extreme conservative.
    Should the word actually be 'reactive' instead of 'reactionary'? I did not quite understand the purpose of quotes in the above paragraph and suspect that there is something I am not able to understand.

    Thank you

  1. Munch's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Is this correct use of 'reactionary'?

    You are on the right track. The author could have simply said "reactive" – perhaps they avoided it because “reactive” has other connotations (chemistry).

    In this case the quote marks are used to show that the author is using his or her own definition of “reactionary”, not the dictionary definition you referred to. Some advice about using quotation marks - it is a matter of style, so be careful.

    To use “reactionary” to mean “created in response to something, a reaction to something” is a natural step, based on the meaning of “react” and “reaction”, so I think most native speakers would understand the author.

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    #3

    Re: Is this correct use of 'reactionary'?

    Quote Originally Posted by Munch View Post
    You are on the right track. The author could have simply said "reactive" – perhaps they avoided it because “reactive” has other connotations (chemistry).

    In this case the quote marks are used to show that the author is using his or her own definition of “reactionary”, not the dictionary definition you referred to. Some advice about using quotation marks - it is a matter of style, so be careful.

    To use “reactionary” to mean “created in response to something, a reaction to something” is a natural step, based on the meaning of “react” and “reaction”, so I think most native speakers would understand the author.
    Thank you for explaining Munch. Thank you for the link also.

    If someone uses quote marks to show that he is using his own defintion of a word, then is it considered correct or acceptable in formal writing? (assuming that the intended meaning is apparent from the context). By formal writing I mean something like an essay or a paper which may be a part of a course and which will get marks/grades.

    In the above link (APA Style) it says "Use quotation marks the first time the word or phrase is used; thereafter, do not use quotation marks." I would think this has scope for confusion if in subsequent uses the quote marks are not used if that word (used in quotes) is also being used in its regular or dictionary sense.

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    #4

    Re: Is this correct use of 'reactionary'?

    I am not an expert on this sort of thing, so I won't speak in general. In this case though, I think it was not necessary for the author to redefine the work like that - there was already a perfectly acceptable word available (reactive). I think he just did it to avoid confusing readers.

    I think it is more common in academic writing when using an everyday word in a special technical sense, or defining a new word when no other word is available because a new concept is being defined.

    That is just my experience from writing undergraduate papers, however. Ask your professors for advice.

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    #5

    Re: Is this correct use of 'reactionary'?

    Quotation marks are a controversial matter. Hugo Steinhaus, a Polish mathematician known for his witticisms, used to say that the most important commandment was, "You shall not use quotation marks." It's not witty in English, but very much so in Polish, because, by means of neologization, he made it sound like, "You shall not commit adultery."

    What he didn't like about the abuse of quotation marks was that he found it cowardly to put one's own words in quotation marks.

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    #6

    Re: Is this correct use of 'reactionary'?

    Thank you Munch and Birdeen's Call.

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    #7

    Re: Is this correct use of 'reactionary'?

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    Quotation marks are a controversial matter. Hugo Steinhaus, a Polish mathematician known for his witticisms, used to say that the most important commandment was, "You shall not use quotation marks." It's not witty in English, but very much so in Polish, because, by means of neologization, he made it sound like, "You shall not commit adultery."

    What he didn't like about the abuse of quotation marks was that he found it cowardly to put one's own words in quotation marks.
    I think F Scott Fitzgerald's observation that using exclamation marks was like laughing at your own jokes probably beats it.

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