Reduce is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary “to bring down or diminish to a smaller number, amount, quantity, extent, etc., or to a single thing”.
The term comes from the Latin word reducere, meaning, to bring back or restore. This now obsolete sense of the word is still present in scientific contexts. In chemistry, reduce describes the conversion or transformation of one substance to a simpler state or form, usually through the removal of oxygen atoms from said substance. In medicine, reduce is the process of “resetting a bone or restoring a dislocated, fractured, herniated part to a normal anatomical state” (1). However, in the late 18th century, the lessening of measurable qualities and quantities became attached to the word. There are many contexts that the word is used in, resulting in many variations of the definition. Reduce can be used as a way to describe the dilution of strength or concentration, especially in the case of alcohol. In mathematics, reduce describes the simplification of terms in an expression, most commonly fractions. In cooking, reduce can describe the decreasing the volume of a liquid, usually by boiling, to increase its concentration. In terms of everyday conversation, reduce can also be used to describe slimming down and losing weight. (1)
Regardless, the various usages of reduce have kept its root meaning somewhat intact. Reduce, and its leaning towards diminishing and lessening, invokes the ideas of minimalism—reduction and distillation, the removal of all that is unnecessary until what is left is a singular essence in the purest sense; the bare minimum. To reduce is to make elegant. The reduction of the complexities of gravity into the brevity of e=mc2 is elegance at its finest. If done correctly, the act of purifying, of distilling and reducing, amplifies impact and value. Gold is more valuable in purified bars than dispersed in the ground. However, in reduction and simplification, some qualities are always inevitably lost.
Reduce deals with striving towards, or bringing back, a simpler state. Ascetics reduce. Simpler states are generally not what people want; the wants of people in today’s culture lean towards excess and consumerism (although there is a counter movement).There are negative connotations attached to the term as a result. Reduce invokes feelings of taking away and cutting back, of being prudent and stingy, of not living life to its full potential. To reduce is to take away, and most people do not like having things taken away.
1. "reduce, v.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/160503 (accessed November 21, 2012).