June 14, 2017

Case File #017.06.14: LACONIC

The adjective laconic was derived from the ancient Greek word Lakonikos, which meant “of Laconia” or “like a person from Laconia.” Loconia was a region of ancient Greece that occupied the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula; its capital was the famous military city of Sparta. Legend has it that when Philip of Macedon threatened invasion with the boast “If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta to the ground,” the Laconians' sole reply was “If.” Whether the story is a verbatim account or not, it is clear that the citizens of Laconia had a reputation for being direct and succinct, and that certainly explains why their name became the basis of an English word that means “terse, pithy, or concise.” By the way, when the adjective first entered the English lexicon circa 1576, its form was laconical, but in the true spirit of its Laconian roots, it was shortened to laconic less than fifteen years later.

©2017 Michael R. Gates

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