Rational - rationale

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It is easy to confuse the spelling of the adjective rational with the spelling of the noun rationale. Don't do it!

  • The basic meaning of the adjective rational, pronounced with the stress on the first syllable 'RASH-'n-'l' (IPA: /ˈræʃ ən əl/), is 'to do with [the mental power of] reason', 'to do with logical thought'. So a person can be rational, by using considered qualities of thought in decisions. (Human beings are rational creatures, and it was traditionally held, with very little basis, that men are more rational beings than women.) A decision or any other thought process may be described as rational when it is based on logical thought, or carefully considered balances of ideas.
  • The noun rationale, pronounced as a trisyllable with the stress on the last syllable 'rash-'en'AHL', /ræʃ ən ˈɑːl/ (but see the note below), means 'the reasoned explanation behind [an idea or argument, etc]', or 'the fundamental reason [for doing or thinking something]'.
    • A much more obscure use of rationale (pronounced, in this sense, 'rash-on-ALE-y'. IPA: /ˌræʃ ən ˈeɪl ɪ/), is as the translation of a Hebrew phrase meaning literally 'breastplate of judgement': the breastplate of gold, with 12 precious stones, worn by the Jewish High Priest and described in the biblical book of Exodus ch. 28, vv. 15-29. The term was later adopted for various episcopal vestments. The word is used to describe the garment because it represented 'judgement', which should always be rational.
Note: Until the second half of the twentieth century, the final '-e-' of rationale was sounded, 'rash-on-AHL (or ALE)-y'. IPA: /ˌræʃ ən ˈɑːl ɪ/. Fowler (1926) said: "rationale is the neuter of the Latin adjective rationalis, & should therefore be pronounced rāshənā'lī [sc. rash-on-ahl-i, /ˌræʃ ən ˈɑːl iː/];but confusion with such French words as morale and locale (there is no French rationale) naturally leads to its being sometimes mispronounced." The latest edition, (Burchfield's Fowler, 1996) merely says that after the earlier quadrisyllabic pronunciation, "it became routinely pronounced as three syllables:/ræʃ ən ˈɑːl/."