In So Many Words

Books of Educational and Informational Comics from Larry Paros


Book I: What's That You Say? (The Use and Misuse of Language)

Of Few Words

In an era of longwinded political discourse, there's much to be said for being terse, pithy, or concise. Derived from the Latin tersus, "wiped off and neat," terse had quite a roller coast ride as an adjective. Initially, back in 1599 it made us "burnished and clean-cut;" then took a step up in 1621 when it became synonymous with "polished, refined and cultured;" and around 1777, evolved into being "concise and pithy in style and language" — all in all, a rather nice set of virtues.

Pithy (c. 1325) "brief but forceful and meaningful," comes from pith, "the essential, most substantive part of a plant." While concise derives from the Latin concisus, "cut off," implying that one needed to be forceful about excising or cutting off unnecessary verbiage.

The ancient experts of the concise and the pithy were the Laconians who inhabited the district of which Sparta was the capital. Threatened by an Athenian herald who told them, "If we come to your city, we will raze it to the ground," the Laconians tersely answered, "If."

The only contemporary match is "Nuts!" uttered by General Anthony McAuliffe in 1944 during World War II in response to a German request for surrender during the Battle of the Bulge.

That's it in a nutshell — the meat of the issue in a small and tightly contained space. Being laconic makes us all people of few words and ever so versatile — blunt and to the point. And that's how you make a long story short (19thC.).