What does "laconic" mean?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Aug 17 20:16:31 UTC 2005

At 3:54 PM -0400 8/17/05, sagehen wrote:
>Since fiction is clearly the setting where "laconic" does most of its work,
>I'd guess that its appearance in reference to characters who also were
>depicted as
>  >emotionless; affectless; dispassionate<  might well lead to the
>assumption that "laconic" was just another way of alluding to that quality.
>For some reason, I actually remember that my first encounter with "laconic"
>was reading Erle Stanley Gardner when I was 12 or 13.  Paul Drake was
>laconic.  I looked it up!

where (at least in the AHD's word history) one sees it originated as
a delocative for a region, Laconia, which is synecdochically (or is
it metonymically?) associated with Sparta and Spartans.  So
etymologically speaking, a laconic narrator might be as martial
and/or frill-less as s/he is taciturn.  Our resident Spartan
informants should be able to help us out here, e.g. dInIs, the soul
of laconicity.


>>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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