• Being economical or sparse with language.


Laconic is used to describe someone who communicates great meaning without using many words. It applies equally to speech patterns and styles of writing, and one who favors a laconic style can exhibit brevity in both of those, or favor concise writing while speaking at length, or vice versa. Though laconic is similar to "brief" or "concise," those more closely describe something which is merely shortened for clarity or to save space. Laconic is the kind of brevity that illustrates phrases or works that are rich in meaning, but accomplish it with the fewest words possible.

An example of a laconic style is the poetry of William Carlos Williams, whose works range from a sentence to a few short stanzas. As terse as his poems are, though, they convey tremendous meaning, which requires more time to discover than to simply read the words aloud. Ernest Hemingway is a laconic writer whose short stories and novels are full of brilliant witticisms, and sentences that speak volumes. The Spartans were famous for their laconic speech as they so often spoke curtly, but in enigmatic riddles. They coined the archetypal laconic phrase known as the laconism: a concise and forthright statement that encapsulated multifaceted wisdom. What these writers and heroes hold in common is their aptness for leaving their readers to ponder their words for an order of magnitude longer than it takes to read them.

Example: When the student asked how to improve her form, the laconic martial arts master's advice left her puzzled.

Example: He saved the laconic love note his girlfriend had left on his desk to use as a bookmark.


Laconic comes from the Greek "Lakōn," which describes the area of Greece called "Laconia." The main city of this region was Sparta, and over the course of Athens' rivalry with Sparta, "Lakōn" and "Lakōnikos" emerged as words to describe, often derisively, those who were Spartan. Athenians tended to bear a more regal demeanor and speak in a more cultured way than the Spartans, whereas the Spartans lived an economical lifestyle, which carried over into their manner of speech. By the mid-16th century laconic emerged in English, the direct descendant of the Latin "Laconicus," referring to the Spartans. Both terms were associated with speaking using very few words.

Derivative Words

Laconically: The adverb form of laconic describes when something is said or written without many words.

Example: He spoke laconically about his art, as he wanted each piece to speak for itself.

Laconism: A noun used to denote a laconic phrase, meaning one that is known for being concise yet expressive.

Example: The Spartans lived by many laconisms, including "Either with this or on this," which Spartan mothers would recite as they handed their sons their shields.

In Literature

From Ian Flemming's For Your Eyes Only:

You can get far in North America with laconic grunts. "Huh," "hun," and "hi!" in their various modulations, together with "sure," "guess so," "that so?" and "nuts!" will meet almost any contingency.

Here, Flemming is cheekily poking fun at how Americans aren't as florid as their British counterparts, preferring curt, or laconic, replies over more descriptive or full-bodied responses. Also, by pairing laconic with "grunts," Flemming cleverly underscores the irony in the conflict between laconic's connotation of communicating profound significance (in its brevity) with the primitive guttural sounds he supposes Americans to have.


  • A phrase is more iconic if it's laconic.


Language, Writing, Greek

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of laconic. Did you use laconic in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.