- Something given in return or in kind
- The act or process of giving something in return or in kind
You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye…" But that's not the only form of requital.
In its basic form, requital is giving something in return for something received. The usual connotation is that both that which is given and that which is received are equal in value, but it's not necessarily about physical objects or monetary value. Say, for instance, that Mary buys lunch, and out of gratitude Jane buys Mary's coffee the next morning. The coffee and the lunch might not cost the same, but Jane's act of kindness is requital for Mary's act of generosity. Requital doesn't just apply to nice things, though. If something is lost or damaged on someone else's watch or responsibility, then the responsible person can offer something to take the place of what was lost or damaged as requital. It's just about repaying like for like—perhaps balancing a karmic debt.
Example: Francis accidentally dropped Gertrude's ball down a sewer drain, so she gave Gertrude her yo-yo as requital for the loss.
Requital first arose in the mid-16th century as a noun form of the verb requite, which has its origin in the Middle English construction of the prefix re- ("back") and the word quite ("to clear, pay up").
Despite its spelling, requite does not bear the connotations of the word quite, but rather those of the word quit. The -e was merely left over from the Anglo-Norman word quite from which the words quit and quite diverged. Quit comes from the Old French quiter ("to clear, establish innocence") finding its root in the Latin quietus, which represents things which are settled, calm, and quiet. It is also the root for the word quiet. That is why the general connotation of requital is returning something to a settled state. Through the ages, the social and political contexts of its usage have emphasized the repayment aspect of the word to imply settling a debt.
Requite: This is the verb from which requital is derived and it means to give something in return or in kind.
Example: Quincy did requite Marvin's hearty "Hello" with a warm handshake.
Requitable: This adjective form of the verb requite refers to things which have the capacity for requital.
Example: Such a grand gesture as your one million dollar donation is hardly requitable!
Unrequited: This common derivative is an adjective that describes things which are not given in return. It is usually used in the context of romantic feelings that are not mutual.
Example: There is nothing quite so sorrowful as unrequited love.
Reciprocation is very similar to requital. Like requital, reciprocation represents an even exchange or giving back. However, reciprocation implies an ongoing relationship based on even exchange, whereas requital implies a debt that needs to be settled.
From Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers:
I claimed the life you owed me for my child's. Besides the lifeless form of your daughter, old man, I swore to live a life of revenge. […] My first act of requital you well remember: this is my last.
Here, Heyling describes his process of settling the debt he feels is owed to him and uses requital to mean giving something in kind.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter:
She never battled with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage; she made no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered; she did not weigh upon its sympathies.
Hawthorne's use of requital refers to the act of giving something in kind.
- Requital can wipe all debts away.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of requital. Did you use requital in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.