Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Young & the Restive

Q. I caught this in my newspaper:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Heavily armed insurgents battled U.S. and Iraqi troops in the restive northern city of Mosul on Friday where at least four policemen, including a top officer, and four militants were reported killed.

Shouldn’t it be restless instead of restive?

A. It’s impossible to call that one without more context, but the words are frequently--and incorrectly--treated as synonyms.

Restless means marked by a lack of quiet or repose. If the reporter was dwelling on the incessant action, the agitated activity, he/she should have used the word restless.

Restive means resisting control, obstinate, stubborn. If the reporter was emphasizing an insurgency that refuses to give in, then he/she correctly used the word restive. The word may also be used to describe a balky horse.

In summary, restlessness is internal and doesn’t need external causes. Restiveness is always the product of external coercion or restriction.

Since Mosul has a reputation for being a hotbed of resistance, my guess is that the reporter was right on target.

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