Etymology Usage

Bouncing back

Q: I often hear/read people using “resiliency” where I would use “resilience.” What’s up with that?

A: Both “resilience” and “resiliency” are legitimate nouns, and they have been for hundreds of years.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) define “resiliency” as “resilience.”

As for “resilience,” the two dictionaries give these meanings: (1) The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. (2) The property that enables a material to return to its original shape after being bent, stretched, or compressed.

We’re not surprised, however, that you’re running across a lot of “resiliency” these days.

There’s been a sharp rise in the usage since the 1970s, though it seems to have fallen off a bit in recent years, according to Google’s Ngram viewer, which lets you track a word’s appearance in books over the years.

A regular Google search turned up 5.75 million hits for “resiliency.” That’s quite a lot, but small change compared with the 28.7 million hits for “resilience.”

A bit more googling left us with the impression that mental-health professionals are much more likely to use “resiliency” in sense #1 than the people who go to them for help. That’s not surprising, of course. Professionals of all sorts seem to prefer stuffier usages over common ones.

Both “resilience” and “resiliency,” as well as the adjective “resilient,” ultimately come from the Latin verb resilire (to jump back or rebound). All three words entered English in the 17th century (“resilience” is slightly older than the other two).

One last thought: resilire (the source of all this bouncing back) is related to the Latin verb salire (to jump or leap), which has given English the noun and verb “sally.” And now we’d better sally forth and check our mailbox for more questions.

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