Another perpetrator of incorrect word usageREACTIONARY: “(of a person or a set of views) opposing political or social liberalization or reform” – New Oxford American Dictionary

More specifically, a reactionary “holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society. The word can also be an adjective describing such viewpoints or policies.” (from the Wikipedia entry for Reactionary) So if one advocates a return to the gold standard, legal slavery, machine politics, undoing women’s suffrage or rolling back the clock in any other way, one is reactionary.

If a company does not lead or innovate – if it finds itself behind the curve, always reacting to market changes – that company is not reactionary. It is reactive. Reactive is the opposite of proactive (and we so like that word!).

I find it endlessly interesting that people: 1) use the wrong word so often, and when they do; 2) use a wrong word that imparts a negative connotation. For that is what reactionary is – a negative. Go ahead. Do a search and see if you can find anyone, even Rush Limbaugh, who boasts of being reactionary. You won’t find it. If we really dig, I’m sure we can find reactionary legislation that most people favor (the 21st Amendment comes to mind). And of course, whether a position is reactionary or conservative depends on both your opinion and where you are in time. But generally speaking, you don’t want to be a reactionary.


Now, I understand that unlike simplistic or verbiage, reactionary, when used as a synonym for “behind the curve,” is meant to sound negative. But it is the wrong negative. If you wish to change your company’s reactive ways, get more proactive. If you wish to make your company less reactionary, become more progressive. Or get a dictionary. Even Rush can get on board with that.

– Otto E. Mezzo

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