Perhaps some of your richest and most satisfying experiences have been with people to whom you can just talk, talk, talk. As you speak, previously untapped springs of ideas and emotions begin to flow; you hear yourself saying things you never thought you knew.

In this remit we look at ten types of people you might be talking to, discovering the adjective that aptly describes each one.


Saying little

There are some people who just don’t like to talk. It’s not that they prefer to listen.  For these people conversation is a bore, even a painful waste of time.  Try to engage them, and the best you may expect for your efforts is a noncommittal grunt or an impatient silence.  Finally you give up, thinking ‘Are they self-conscious?  Do they hate people?  Do they hate me?

The adjective: taciturn

Saying little – meaning much

There is an anecdote about Calvin Coolidge, who was president of the USA in the 1920s. A young newspaperwoman was sitting next to him at a banquet, so the story goes, and turned to him mischievously.

‘Mr Coolidge,’ she said. ‘I have a bet with my editor that I can get you to say more than two words to me this evening.’

You lose,’ replied Coolidge.

The adjective: laconic

When the words won’t come

Under the pressure of some strong emotion – fear, rage, or anger – people may find it almost impossible to get their feelings untangled enough to form understandable sentences. They undoubtedly have a lot they want to say, but the best they can do is splutter!

The adjective: inarticulate

Much talk, little sense

Miss Bates, a character in the novel Emma, by Jane Austen, says:

‘So obliging of you! No, we should not have heard, if it had not been for this particular circumstance, for her being able to come here so soon.  My mother is so delighted.  For she is to be three months with us at least.  Three months, she says so, positively, as I am going to have the pleasure of reading to you.  The case is, you see, that the Campbells are going to Ireland.  Mrs Dixon has persuaded her father and mother to come over and see her directly.  I was going to say, but, however, different countries, and so she wrote a very urgent letter to her mother, or her father, I declare I do not know which it was, but we shall see presently in Jane’s letter…’

The adjective: garrulous


Some people are completely lacking in originality and imagination – and their talk shows it. Their words abound in clichés and stereotypes, their phraseology is without sparkle.

The adjective: banal

Words, words, words!

They talk and talk and talk, never using one word where ten would do instead. They phrase, rephrase, and re-phrase their thoughts, clothing them in long and important-sounding words.

The adjective: verbose

Words in quick succession

They are rapid, fluent talkers, the words seeming to roll off their tongues with such ease and lack of effort that you listen with amazement.

The adjective: voluble

Words that convince

They express their ideas clearly and persuasively, and in a way that calls for wholehearted agreement from an intelligent listener.

The adjective: cogent

The sound and the fury

Their talk is noisy and vehement. What may be lacking in content is compensated for in force and loudness.

The adjective: vociferous


They talk a great deal – a very great deal. They may be voluble, vociferous, garrulous, verbose, but never inarticulate, taciturn, or laconic.  It’s the quantity and continuity that are most conspicuous.

The adjective: loquacious

Can you match the words?

taciturn = unwilling to engage in conversation

laconic = using few words packed with meaning

inarticulate = spluttering unintelligibly

garrulous = chattering meaninglessly

banal = trite, hackneyed, unoriginal

verbose = wordy

voluble = fluent and rapid

cogent = brilliantly compelling persuasive

vociferous = noisy, loud

loquacious = talkative

Do you understand the words?

Do taciturn people usually make others feel comfortable and welcome?

Does a laconic speaker use more words than necessary?

Does range make some people inarticulate?

Is it interesting to listen to garrulous old men?

Do banal speakers show a great deal of originality?

Is verbose a complimentary term?

Is it easy to be voluble when you don’t know the subject you are talking about?

Do unintelligent people usually make cogent statements?

Is a vociferous demand ordinarily made by a shy, quiet person?

Do loquacious people spend more time talking than listening?



About keeping one’s mouth shut

If you let your mind play over some of the taciturn people you know, you will realize that their abnormal disinclination to conversation makes them seem morose, sullen, and unfriendly.

Taciturn is from a Latin verb taceo, to be silent, and is one of those words whose full meaning cannot be expressed by any other combination of syllables.  It has many synonyms, among them silent, uncommunicative, reticent, reserved, secretive, tight-lipped, and close-mouthed; but no other word indicates the permanent, habitual, and temperamental disinclination to talk implied by taciturn.  The noun is taciturnity.

Better left unsaid

Tacit derives also from taceo.

Here is a man dying of cancer. He suspects what his disease is, and everyone else, of course, knows.  Yet he never mentions the dread word, and no one who visits him ever breathes a syllable of it in his hearing.  It is tacitly understood by all concerned that the word will remain forever unspoken.

We speak of a tacit agreement, arrangement, acceptance, rejection, assent, refusal, etc.  A person is never called tacit.

The noun is tacitness.  (Bear in mind that you can transform any adjective into a noun by adding –ness, though in many cases there may be a more sophisticated, or more common, noun form.)

Changing the a of the root taceo to i, and adding the prefix re-, again, we can construct the English word reticent.  Someone is reticent who prefers to keep silent, whether out of shyness, embarrassment, or fear of revealing what should not be revealed.  (The idea of ‘againness’ in the prefix has been lost in the current meaning of the word.)  The noun form is reticence.

Talk, talk, talk!

Loquacious people love to talk. This adjective is not necessarily a put-down, but the implication is that you wish such people would pause for breath once in a while so that you can have your  turn.  The noun is loquacity, or, of course, loquaciousness.

The word derives from Latin loquor, to speak, a root found also in:

soliloquy – a speech to oneself (loquor plus solus, alone), or, etymologically, a speech when alone.  This word is applied thoughts aloud to the audience.  The soliloquist may be alone; or other members of the cast may be present on stage, but of course they don’t hear what’s being said, because they’re not supposed to know.  The verb is to soliloquize.

A ventriloquist is one who can throw his voice.  A listener thinks the sound is coming from some source other than the person speaking.  The combining root is Latin venter, ventris, belly; etymologically, ventriloquism is the art of ‘speaking from the belly’.  The adjective is ventriloquistic or ventriloquial.

Colloquial combines loquor, to speak, with the prefix con.  When people speak together in conversation, their language is usually more informal and less rigidly grammatical than what you might expect in writing or in public addresses. Colloquial patterns are perfectly correct – they are simply informal, and suitable to everyday conversation.

A colloquialism, therefore, is a conversational-style expression, like ‘He hasn’t got any’ or   ‘Who are you going with?’ as contrasted to the formal or literary ‘He has none’ or ‘With             whom are you going?’.

A circumlocution is, etymologically, a ‘talking around’ (circum-, around).  Any way of expressing an idea that is roundabout or indirect is circumlocutory.

Can you match the words?

taciturnity = unwillingness to engage in conversation

tacitness = state of being understood though not actually expressed

circumlocution = method of talking indirectly or in a roundabout way

loquacity = talkativeness

soliloquy = talking, or a speech, ‘to oneself’

ventriloquism = art of throwing one’s voice

colloquialism = informal expression used in everyday conversation

loquacious = fond of talking a lot

reticence = unwillingness to talk

Do you understand the words?

A tacit understanding is put into words.  No

Inhibited people are seldom reticent about expressing anger.  No

A soliloquist expresses his thoughts aloud.  Yes

A ventriloquial performance on stage involves a dummy who appears to be talking.  Yes

A colloquial style of writing is ungrammatical.  No

Circumlocutory speech is direct and forthright. No

Inarticulate people are generally given to loquaciousness. No

A soliloquy is a dialogue.  No

Taciturnity makes a person seem friendly. No

A colloquialism is inappropriate in a formal written context.  Yes



A Spartan virtue

In ancient Sparta, originally known as Laconia, the citizens were hardbitten, stoical, military-minded, and noted for their economy of speech.  Legend has it that when Philip of Macedonia was storming the gates of Sparta (or Laconia), he sent a message to the besieged king saying.  ‘If we capture your city we will burn it to the ground.’  A oneword answer came back: ‘If.’

It is from the name Laconia that we derive our word laconic – pithy, concise, economical in the use of words almost to the point of curtness; precisely the opposite of verbose.

We have learned that –ness, -ity, and –ism are suffixes that transform adjectives into nouns – and all three can be used with laconic:

…with characteristic laconicness

…her usual laconicity

…with, for him, unusual laconicism


Cogent is a term of admiration. A cogent argument is well put, and above all convincing.  Cogency shows a keen mind, an ability to think clearly and logically.  The word derives from the Latin verb cogo, to drive together, compel, force.  A cogent argument compels acceptance because of its logic, its appeal to  one’s reason.

Back to talk

Here are some more words based on loquor, to speak.

The eloquent person speaks out (e-, from ex-, out), is expressive fluent, or persuasive in language.  The word is partially synonymous with cogent, but cogent implies irresistible logical reasoning while eloquent suggests the skilful use of language to move and arouse a listener.

Magniloquent (magnus, large) and grandiloquent (grandis, grand) are virtually identical in meaning. Magniloquence or grandiloquence is the use of high-flown, grandiose, even pompous language; home is a place of residence, for example, a doctor is a member of the medical fraternity, etc.

Loquacious, verbose, voluble, and garrulous people are all talkative; but each type, you will recall, has a special quality.

If you are verbose, you smother your ideas with excess words, especially pedantic ones. Verbose is from Latin verbum, word – the verbose person is wordy.

If you are voluble, you speak rapidly and fluently; you are vocal, verbal, and highly articulate. Voluble comes from Latin volvo, volutus, to roll – words effortlessly roll off the voluble speaker’s tongue.

If you are garrulous, you talk constantly, and usually aimlessly and meaninglessly, about trifles. Garrulous derives from Latin garrio, to chatter – a garrulous talker chatters away like a monkey.

The suffix –ness can be added to all those adjectives to form nouns.  Alternate noun forms end in –ity:




At large

Here are some more words based on magnus, large, big, great:

Magnanimous – big hearted, generous, forgiving (etymologically, ‘great-minded’) (magnus plus animus, mind).

Magnate – a person of great power or influence.

Magnify – to make larger, or make seem larger (magnus plus –fy from facio, to make).

Magnificentmagnus plus fic-, from facio.

Magnitudemagnus plus the common noun suffix –tude, as in fortitude, multitude, gratitude, etc.

Magnum (as of champagne or wine) – a large bottle, generally twice the size of a standard bottle.

Words, words, words!

Latin verbum is word.  A verb is the important word in a sentence; verbatim is word-for-word (a verbatim report).

Verbal, ending in the adjectival suffix –al, may refer either to a verb, or to words in general ( a verbal fight); or it may mean, loosely, oral or spoken, rather than written (verbal agreement or contract); or, describing people (‘she is quite verbal’), it may refer to a ready ability to put feelings or thoughts into words.

Verbiage has two meanings: an excess of words (‘Such verbiage!’); or jargon (medical verbiage, military verbiage).

Roll on, and on!

Volvo, volutus, to roll, the source of voluble, is the root on which many important English words are based.

Revolve – roll again (and again), or to keep turning round. (The prefix is re-, back or again.)

The noun is revolution, which can be one such complete rolling, or, by logical extension, a radical change of any sort, especially political.  The adjective revolutionary introduces us to a new adjective suffix, –ary, as in contrary, disciplinary, stationary, imaginary, etc.

Involve – etymologically, ‘roll in’ (‘I didn’t want to get involved!’).  Noun: involvement.

Evolve – etymologically, ‘roll out’ (e-, out); hence to unfold, or gradually develop (‘The final plan evolved from some informal discussions’).  Noun: evolution.

Can you match the words?

laconicity = great economy in speech

eloquence = great, artistic, or emotional wordiness

magniloquence = floweriness, pompousness, or elegance in speech

verbosity = wordiness

volubility = fluency, ease, and/or rapidity of speech

garrulity = incessant chatter with little meaning

magnate = important or influential person

revolution = ‘a rolling round’; radical change; political upheaval

evolution = a gradual unfolding or development; a ‘rolling out’

cogency = persuasiveness through logic; keen-mindedness in reasoning

Do you understand the words?

Is laconicism characteristic of a verbose speaker?  No

Does a magniloquent speaker use short, simple words?  No

Did humans evolve from ape-men?  Yes

Is an eloquent speaker interesting to listen to?  Yes

Do verbose people use a lot of verbiage?  Yes

Is volubility characteristic of an inarticulate person?  No

Does verbosity show a careful and economical use of words?  No

Is a verbal person usually inarticulate?  No

Is a garrulous person persuasive and logical?  No

Is a magnanimous person selfish and petty-minded?  No



Front and back – and uncles

As well as ventriloquist, etc., venter, ventris, belly, is also the root on which ventral and ventricle are built.

The ventral side of an animal, for example, is the front or belly side.

A ventricle is a hollow organ or cavity, as one of the two chambers of the heart.

The adjective form of ventricle is ventricular, which may refer to a ventricle, or may mean having a bellylike bulge.  Other adjectives are similarly formed: vehiclevehicular, circlecircular.

The Latin word for uncle is avunculus, from which we get avuncular, referring to an uncle.  And because uncles are traditionally kindly, indulgent, and protective, anyone who behaves so towards another (usually younger) person is avuncular or acts in an avuncular capacity.

So we go back to ventral.  If there’s a front or belly side, anatomically, there must be a reverse – a back side.  This is the dorsal side, from Latin dorsum, the root on which the verb endorse is built.  If you endorse a cheque, you sign it on the back side; if you endorse a plan, an idea, etc., you back it, you express your approval or support.  The noun is endorsement.

The noise and the fury

We have already met vociferous, from Latin vox, vocis, voice, plus fero, to bear or carry.  Its noun is vociferousness; the verb is to vociferate.  Can you form the noun derived from the verb?

To sleep or not to sleep – that is the question

The root fero is found also in somniferous, combined with somnus, sleep – it means bringing sleep.  So a somniferous lecture is so dull and boring that it is sleep-inducing.

Tack on the negative prefix in– to somnus to construct insomnia, the abnormal inability to fall asleep when sleep is required or desired.  The unfortunate victim of this disability is an insomniac, the adjective is insomniac or insomnious.  Add a different adjective suffix to somnus to derive somnolent, sleepy, drowsy.  Can you construct the noun form of somnolent?

Combine somnus with ambulo, to walk, and you have somnambulism, walking in one’s sleep.  A person who is a sleepwalker is a somnambulist (-ist is a common suffix for a person who does something).

A walkaway

An ambulatory patient is well enough to get out of bed and walk around.  To amble is to walk aimlessly; an ambulance is so called because originally it was composed of two stretcher-bearers who walked off the battlefield with a wounded soldier; and a preamble is, by etymology, something that ‘walks before’ (pre-, before, beforehand), hence an introduction or introductory statement, a preamble to the speech, etc.

Teasers questions for the amateur etymologist


Circum is a prefix meaning around, as in circumlocution, circumference, circumnavigation, etc.  Thinking of the root scribo, scriptus, to write, can you work out the word meaning writing, or written material, around (the edge of something)?


Answer: Circumscription.  To circumscribe also means, figuratively, to write (a line) around (one’s freedom of action), so that one is restricted or hemmed in, as in ‘a life circumscribed by poverty’.


You know the roots somnus and loquor.  Can you combine these two roots to form an adjective meaning talking in one’s sleep?  Can you write the noun of this adjective?


Answer: Somniloquent.  Noun: somniloquence or somniloquy, the latter noun also designating the words spoken by the sleeper.  One who habitually talks while asleep is a somniloquist.


A somnambulist walks in his sleep.  What does a noctambulist do?


Answer: A noctambulist walks at night – nox, noctis, night, plus ambulo, to walk.  Noun: noctambulism.


Soporific, combining spoor, sleep, with fic– (from facio), to make, means inducing or causing sleep. Use somnus, another root for sleep, to construct a word that has the same form and meaning as soporific.


Answer: Somnific: a somnific lecture, film, effect, etc.


Perambulate is to walk through.  Use another Latin prefix to construct a verb meaning to walk around.


Answer: Circumambulate.  To circumnavigate is to sail around – circum, around, plus navis, ship.



Back to sleep

Somnus is one Latin word for sleep – sopor is another.  A soporific lecture, speaker, style of delivery, etc. will put the audience to sleep (fic– from facio, to make), and a soporific is a sleeping pill.

Noun suffixes

You know that –ness can be added to any adjective to construct the noun form.  Write the noun derived from inarticulate.

Another, and very common, noun suffix attached to adjectives is, as you have discovered, –ity.  So the noun form of banal is either banalness, or, more commonly, banality.

Bear in mind, then, that –ness and –ity are common noun suffixes attached to adjectives, and –ion (or –ation) is a noun suffix frequently affixed to verbs (to articulatearticulation; to vocalizevocalization; to perambulateperambulation.)

Can you match the words?

ventral = referring to the front or belly

dorsal = referring to the back side

somniferous = sleep-inducing

insomnious = unable to fall asleep

somnolent = drowsy

somnambulistic = pertaining to sleepwalking

endorsement = support; backing

amble = walk aimlessly

preamble = introduction

avuncular = like an uncle; kindly; protective

Do you understand the words?

Does an insomniac often need a soporific?  Yes

Does a somnambulist always stay in bed when asleep?  No

Are ambulatory patients bedridden?  No

Does a preamble come after another event?  No

Is the dorsal side of an animal at the front?

Is a ventricle a part of the heart?

Does an avuncular attitude indicate affection and protectiveness?  Yes

Is vociferation habitual with quiet, shy people? No

Is a somnolent person wide awake?  No

Is a somniferous speaker stimulating and exciting?  No

©Marshall Dodgson


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Andrea Nicola Dodgson

I'm a R.o. Buddhist. And a U.N. Theatre tutor where I own all the Ethnography businesses as birth certificates involving Disney, MGM, Universal, Times Warner, 20th Century Fox, Sony, D.C., Tristar, Pixar, Columbia, and Paramount. And, I get Equipment here for it. I want all my equipment.. #Solidarity

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