What does "laconic" mean?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Aug 17 21:14:59 UTC 2005

On Wed, 17 Aug 2005 15:54:00 -0400, sagehen <sagehen at WESTELCOM.COM> 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.

Definitions of "laconic" frequently suggest an icy rudeness underlying the

* Webster's 1913: "concise with the additional quality of pithiness,
sometimes of brusqueness"

* AHD4 (under "silent"): "denotes terseness or conciseness in expression,
but when applied to people it often implies an unwillingness to use words"

* MW10: "concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious"

So I can see how the 'chilly' secondary sense might have overtaken the
'pithy' primary sense.

That "-onic" ending might also connote to some a kind of cold, mechanistic
nature... robotic, perhaps?

--Ben Zimmer

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