What does "laconic" mean?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Aug 17 19:01:58 UTC 2005

Never ask those twentysomethings !  They always tell you what you most fear !

This reminds me of "willy-nilly."  When I encounter it, it almost always seems to mean "recklessly."  This has been true all my life.  But that meaning does not appear in OED, whose citations end in 1898.


Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Jesse Sheidlower
Subject: What does "laconic" mean?

Well, _I_ know what it means, and you probably do too. It's
the rest of the world I'm wondering about.

I was recently reading an online post about an audiobook, and
read the comment, "Narrator a bit too laconic for my taste,
but oh well."

I thought, "How can it be the narrator's fault?", then
realized that there's probably a semantic shift here, and did
the usual exercise of asking a dozen or so highly educated
twentysomethings what they thought the word meant, and
discovered that they _all_ think _laconic_ means something
like 'emotionless; affectless; dispassionate'.

While I can see how this interpretation arose, I've never
encountered it before; it's not in a medium-size pile of
dictionaries and usage books I've checked, and we don't
have any examples in our files. A quick look through some
online sources suggests that the usual 'using few words'
meaning is the one people use in print.

Any thoughts?

Jesse Sheidlower

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