LACONIC: brief, terse comments

The ability to make a cogent point in a few words is a gift.   Most of us feel the need to carry on forever with words, illustrations, supporting data, and commentary in order to convince the audience that we know what we are talking about.

But one who is laconic is gifted with that enviable skill to say the same thing, make the same point, and convince those listening with a minimum of words.  We laugh at examples of someone who is confronted with a serious matter and lectured by the one confronting in endless, emotional terms.   At the end, the questioner poses the query to the person, who looks at (her) and says, “Yes.”   Just that.  “Yes.” In researching the word laconic I came upon a reference to its origin in the Greek language.   The story accompanying the reference is worth repeating:

“Lakonikos, from Lakon “person from Lakonia,” the district around Sparta in southern Greece in ancient times, whose inhabitants were famously proud of their brevity of speech. When Philip of Macedon threatened them with, “If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta to the ground,” the Spartans’ reply was, “If.” Related: Laconically.”*

We react to laconic responses with humor, yet with respect.    I’m thinking of the hundreds of thousands of words that are utilized every time a political speaker takes to the podium or the camera.  It seems as if the belief is that the more one says, the more people will react positively.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the idea that wouldn’t it be wonderful if, at this point in a long, wordy and contentious campaign, a candidate were to go to the television camera in a 10 second ad that said, simply, “You’ve heard all the issues, folks.  There’s little more to say. Please vote for me on November 6.”   It is a laconic comment, and one which, I believe, would be welcomed by a great number of the voters who are trying to spend a peaceful, non-controversial evening in front of their televisions.

While I am a wordsmith, someone who values words greatly, I am also one who recognizes that an over-abundance of words can be counter-productive.   When boredom and irritability begin to set in and people begin to check their watches or cell phones to see what time it is, the words are being lost.

As a writer I occasionally turn off whatever I’m working on in order to spend a while writing “Hint Fiction,“   novels that are composed of 25 words or less.**  The apocryphal  example of such writing is Ernest Hemingway, who was reported to have been challenged to write a complete novel in six words.   His product:

“For sale:  baby shoes, never worn.”

Any doubt that the reader cannot experience the whole story in these six words?  How laconic.


Photo Credit:

*Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

** See Robert Swartwood’s book, Hint Fiction

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