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At work the other day, I was making something and wanted a senior person's opinion on my creation for Steve. I said "Hey Steve, can you take a look at my hat, I'd like your discretion." He said I should've said "...I'd like your opinion."

Now, because it was Steve's job to make the hat, and I was assisting him. I think perhaps I should've said something along the lines of use your discretion. Or may I use your discretion. Something like that. As in, it's his decision whether or not the hat is good enough, gauged through his professional opinion.

This has been eating away at me for days!

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You say in your first sentence that you wanted Steve's opinion, which means that you wanted his judgment on the quality of the hat. But it seems from subsequent sentences that you wanted more than Steve's opinion; you wanted Steve's decision on whether the quality of the work was sufficient, i.e., you wanted his dispositive opinion of your work.

In this context, discretion is the freedom to exercise authority, and the only person who can exercise said authority is the person who holds it. Thus requesting someone else's discretion or using someone else's discretion is inapt. Now, by the very nature of freedom of action, someone with discretionary power may choose to exercise it or refrain from doing so, and you may recognize that fact by saying something like

I understand and expect that you will exercise your discretion to pass judgment on the quality of this hat.

But since you're reporting to Steve, a senior person whose responsibility it is to pass judgment, you hardly need to acknowledge the obvious fact of Steve's discretion. All you need to say is

Is this hat good enough?

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Your senior coworker was correct. Opinion would be a suitable word in that situation and discretion would not.

In general, when you ask for someone's discretion, you are in effect asking them to keep something private (just between you and them). In other words, your conversation is to be kept a secret, at least until the person who is confiding in you says later that it's now OK for you tell others.

Discretion can be used in other ways, too. When you ask someone,

Please use your discretion in talking with others about the upcoming layoffs at the company,

you are asking them to use their best judgment, which could mean, for example, they limit the number of people they tell about what might happen.

Here is a quotation from Shakespeare's play, "Henry the Fourth":

Falstaff: "To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have sav'd my life" (Part 1 Act 5, scene 4, 115–121, my emphasis).

Here, when Falstaff uses the word discretion, he is saying in effect that while valor (bravery) is a good thing, sometimes simply choosing to live another day, instead of dying as a hero, reveals discretion (good judgment).

Put differently, Falstaff is saying that as good as valor might be, sometimes using one's discretion to stay alive is far better!

  • Thank you for the swift reply, I like how you used the other meaning of discretion, but I'm not sure how it could've applied in this situation. I'd upvote you for your efforts but I'm new so it doesn't show D: – William Bachynsky Jan 16 '17 at 5:05
  • @WilliamBachynsky: The other meaning of discretion does NOT apply to the situation you describe. I guess the "teacher" in me is trying to explain what discretion means. You COULD use the word discretion if your sentence was worded this way: Steve, here's a hat I've come up with, but at your discretion, feel free to use any part of my design which you like." Here you are giving Steve permission to use your design in any way he thinks is best. He will use his best judgment to determine what aspects of your design he wants to use. Don – rhetorician Jan 16 '17 at 8:07

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