Printable Version
Pronunciation: -sê-têrn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Quiet, abstaining from talk or conversation, saying little to nothing in the company of others.

Notes: Today's word is a member of a happy family that includes the noun taciturnity, and an adverb, taciturnly. The adjectives reticent and laconic are similar in meaning but not synonyms. Reticent implies a reluctance to express yourself for some reason, usually fear, holding back something known. (It does NOT (yet) mean "hesitant"!) A laconic person speaks clearly but tersely, in short, precise phrases that do not waste words.

In Play: Taciturnity is a shortage of speech that borders on the unsociable, a reluctance to speak even when necessary: "Mr. Rhee has been taciturn all week; they say he is sulking over Hetty's rejection of his proposal." It can also simply be a rather appealing personality trait, "Miss Teak is a bright though taciturn woman who expresses herself better in writing than in conversation."

Word History: Today's word is another one we slipped out of Latin when it wasn't looking. Latin taciturnus comes from the noun tacitus "silent", the past participle of tacere "to be silent", which is taire today in French with the same meaning. A related word is tacit "unspoken but implied", which today we use freely. Few other words seem related to this stem. However, one famous name is Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 55-120) who, despite being named "Silence", was one of the most elegant orators and historians of his day. (We are, of course, most grateful that Luis Alejandro Apiolaza is not taciturn when he thinks of very Good Words like this one, which he suggested for today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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