Ever since I came to this country, I’ve been puzzled and appalled by music teachers who use the term “ritard”.

I recently came across it on a website where the blogger talked about taking advantage of “phrases, cadences, ritards, etc… – Whenever I have an excuse, like at the end of a phrase, at big cadences, in spots marked with tenuto marks, or where there are ritards, […]” .

If you were to hear someone use the term “dimins” – would you know what they meant? It’s the same kind of abbreviation as “ritards”.

Yes, “ritardando” is a long word, but so are crescendo, decrescendo, and five-syllable words such as accelerando and diminuendo (which is even harder to pronounce).

The use of the term ritardando varies of course from composer to composer and from one style period to the next: Baroque and Classical composers didn’t seem to use the term (they trusted you to know where and how much to bend the tempo), 19th Century romantic composers actually did not use it as much as one would think, whereas contemporary composers who compose in a romantic style use it a lot. Impressionistic composers do use it but prefer French terminology (en retenant or cedez).

There are two commonly used abbreviations for ritardando:  rit. and ritard.

In scores, whether we find rit. or ritard. seems to depend to a large degree on the edition: Wiener Urtext does ritard., Henle has mostly rit., Schirmer seems to be 50/50, Maurice Hinson and Jane Magrath use rit.

Chopin, in Polish and Hungarian editions, uses rall. or rallent.

Here in the United States, I find the use of “ritard.” appallingly insensitive because ritard. sounds too much like “retard” – a word we have been working so hard to get people to stop using. Retard *is* a word in the English language, and to use something that sounds alike, even though you mean something different (the root is the same, though), shows an appalling lack of concern, especially when it comes from a teacher.

If you want to abbreviate ritardando please use rit. (There is no confusion with ritenuto which is always shortened to riten.)

P.S.: I similarly like to shorten diminuendo to dim. (not dimin.) because it is short and unambiguous, and because it is descriptive: dim the lights, dim the sound.