I had to twist my mother’s arm to get a word request out of her, and while she was coming up with an idea, she said I should also post a definition of the words I’m picking apart. I could do that, but I was raised to believe that giving someone a straight definition for a word would not enrich their understanding of words nearly as much as handing them a dictionary and giving them the sage advice my mother always gave me: Look it up.
My mother chose this word for its simplicity. (I say with an evil chuckle.) In some ways, it is a non-complicated word. What I mean by this is that, unlike “persnickety,” I don’t have to go squinting through the O.E.D. for some semblance of a poor answer. “Reflection” followed a very common path for Romance (i.e., originating in Rome) language borrowings: Latin passed it on to Old French, which in turn passed it on to Middle English, where it settled into the pattern of sound and form changes that govern the way Middle English turned into Modern English.
The original Latin, reflectere, can be parsed into two parts: the prefix “re” and the verb “flectere.” Flectere means, simply enough, “to bend.” Re- has not changed in meaning in any substantial way since its use in Latin, where it meant as it still does “again,” or “back” and can also be used as an intensifier. Taken together, the parts form a word that meant “to bend back.”
The primary definition s.v. “reflect” has to do with the bending back of light, the way we see things in mirrors. “Reflect” and “mirror,” in fact, are words that go hand in hand even into the metaphorical maze that makes “reflect” a not-so-simple word. To say “he held up a mirror to my actions” is to say “he made me reflect on what I was doing.” What is being bent back in this situation? Not light, but the Self, at least, as the Self exists in the form of thought waves that are being asked to obey the laws of Newtonian physics and bounce back at an equal and opposite angle to their angle of incidence…
I could go into a very detailed post-modern deconstruction of the idea of “bending back” the Self, but as I think that would make you would all stop reading my blog forever, I won’t. The point is that when one is reflecting on something, one is not simply thinking about it. One is engaging in an exercise of mental flexibility (same Latin rood, by the way). Reflection requires you to end up in a different mental place than that which you began in, or at least to have moved your mental muscles through different positions.
My recommendation? Do some mental calisthenics before you sit down to reflect.