Reclusion vs. Seclusion

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks to know the difference between “reclusion and seclusion, reclusive and seclusive.”

Although synonyms for one another, these words are not interchangeable in every context.

Of the nouns, seclusion is used more frequently than reclusion to refer to a state of being apart from society. One of its meanings is “a desirable separation from the hustle and bustle of daily life”:

Wilderness lodges and resorts offer the utmost in luxurious accommodations and amenities, while providing the seclusion that many travelers seek when they visit Alaska.

Shrouded by forest, Monterey estate offers seclusion, serenity

In the context of public education, seclusion is a term for the prescribed separation of a disruptive student from classmates:

The immediate goal of seclusion is to defuse a dangerous situation, protect the student and others from injury, and regain a safe, controlled, productive learning environment.

Reclusion also refers to the state of being separated from society, but this word carries the connotation that the separation is a chosen way of life.

Although the adjective seclusive may be found in the OED, it is not in common use.

Reclusive is the common word used to mean, “disposed to prefer seclusion or isolation.”

The word reclusion has religious origins. In the Middle Ages, women called anchoresses lived in reclusion: they inhabited a cell or small suite of rooms attached to a church and never left. Food was passed to them through a window. Some anchoresses, like Dame Julian of Norwich, received visitors for purposes of counseling, but some lived apart from all but the most necessary interaction with other people, sealed up in their cells as in a tomb.

The word for a person who chooses a life of reclusion is recluse (American pronunciation: [REK-loos]; British pronunciation [ri-KLOOS]).
In modern usage, the noun recluse and the adjective reclusive are used mainly in a nonreligious context. For example, well-known personalities–living and dead– are often described as reclusive, notably, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Emily Dickinson, and Howard Hughes.

Here are some examples from the Web:

Snowden A Recluse One Year On After Receiving Russia Asylum

Reclusive mining heiress leaves $30 million to the nurse

For the past ten years, the London-born actor [Daniel Day-Lewis] has led a resolutely reclusive existence, locked away on a remote 50-acre estate in the mountains of County Wicklow…

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