Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Succinct & Wordy


Succinct & Wordy

We use all sorts of words to describe writing. Here’s a look at some:

The synonyms wordy & verbose both come from the Proto-Indo-European word were- that meant, not surprisingly, word. Were- made its way through Latin (verbum) to become the English word verbose, while another branch of the were- family tree made its way through Germanic languages (Old Saxon, Frisian, Dutch and Old High German) to become word. Wordy. At some point the Scots generously donated that final –y to wordy, as they did to many English words.

A writer who is wordy might be referred to as prolix, which showed up in English in the 1400s, through Old French, originally from Latin, prolixus, where it meant extended, with a literal translation of flow forth or flowing liquid, a metaphor that works just fine for any of us who’ve spent time on the listening end of a prolix speech or lecture.

In the 1580s, concise came to the language from the Latin word concisus, meaning cut off or brief. Concise is constructed of two bits, con- or com-, meaning with, & -cise or -cide, to cut. This means the word concise translates to something like with cutting, & cutting is exactly what we have to do when our language needs to be more concise.

A synonym of concise is succinct. It’s modern meaning, brief or concise showed up in the 1500s, but its initial meaning in English was “having one’s belt fastened tightly,” & that’s exactly what those of us who tend toward wordiness feel when we’re told we need to be more succinct. The word was born of a Middle French word, which came from the Latin succinctus, which originated in a word meaning to gird from below, arguably referring to an early “support garment” – one that likely felt a bit constricting -- which at least offers imaginative evidence that it was our wordier ancestors who moved succinct into its present meaning.

Fellow writers & readers, what do you have to say about verbosity or succinctness? When writing, do you naturally tend toward one or the other? When speaking?


My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Etymonline. & Wordnik

36 comments:

  1. "Were" means word? Does that mean a werewolf is a verbose wolf? I love that idea! Wouldn't that make a great comic character, a werewolf who TALKED your ears off? And succinct means a girdle? I guess a lot of us would like our butts to be more succinct. LOL. Lots of fun stuff as always, Mr. Monger!

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  2. Hi Anne,
    I'm pleased to offer you a laugh. I'm with you on the "were" origins & I also love the idea that succinct = suck it up. Life is funny.

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  3. Verbosity has a place in language; however, I think it is widely misused and misunderstood.

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  4. I tend to be a succinct writer. Maybe I just don't have enough to say. Or maybe my vocabulary is too limited to not be succinct. Or... I wonder just where the concise verbiage belt gets tightened. I'm picturing it around the throat, or the brain and a writer sitting at their desk pulling away. I like Anne's idea of the verbose werewolf. And she could write it, too. I would be hilarious!

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  5. Considering my blog is titles "Woman of 1,000 Words" it's rather obvious which side of this argument I come down on. I always say, if most people need 10 words to say hello, I need 100. I stand in awe of the succinct emails I receive that convey an entire chapter in two sentences, a whole book in two 3-sentence paragraphs. My emails look more like tome-ic epistles than short notes. Ahh, the joys of being a true word monger...

    I had the same thought as Anne as I read about were... what a riotous story that would be. Here's a conundrumic query... Could a succinct writer pen a werewolf story? Ruminate on that one awhile...

    thanks for the fun post, Mr. Monger!

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  6. Ahoy Christine, Susan, & Jackfisher,
    Thanks for coming by. I agree with Jackfisher -- time & a place for nearly everything. And Christine, you may have just discovered Anne's next project, & Susan, though in the flesh I lean toward the succinct, on the page I, also live in the Land of Verbosity.

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  7. Yea, Jack! First from our AP team!

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  8. Hopefully there will be more of us soon!

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  9. Personally, I tend to be more "verbose" while writing but less so while speaking. This tendency most likely occurs because I have enough time to choose the words that best express my thoughts when I write. However, being succinct is important. If one is too verbose while speaking (or writing), he may leave his "audience" (whoever he or she is talking to) confused. So don't be like this post and BE SUCCINCT XD.

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  10. I feel that "wordy" often has a connotation stuck to it while its synonym "verbose" does not. It seems there is always a time to be verbose or not. One should rather be succinct when dealing with instructions and other similar writings. It would be beneficial to be verbose in something such as an image rich story or write however, to more properly convey the correct feeling. In the end there is a time for everything, to be verbose or to be succinct, the correct choice always depends on the situation at hand.

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  11. Though my writing tends to be verbose, I admire those who can get a significant message across while using a succinct style. They include an immense amount of meaning in their words. Sometimes true literary talent is conveyed through how little one needs to write.

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  12. Was I the only one that mentally connected Prolix to Prolific? Anyways, to address the question, verbosity tends to occur when one is rather competent on the subject at hand. Also, being succinct in writing rather than verbose in writing is not negative; it is refreshing for the reader to read a piece that gets straight to the point!

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  13. Greetings Alex, Tyler, Summer, & Amy,
    Thanks for visiting Wordmonger, & for weighing in on this question. Please extend my thanks to the inimitable Ms. Turner.

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  14. It is interesting to see the different styles of both writing and talking between men and women. While men tend to be more succinct, women are commonly more verbose in our culture.

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  15. Being verbose instead of succinct is not necessarily bad either. Sometimes people just need a few extra words in order to express their thoughts. Personally, I tend to be somewhere in the middle of the two and I feel as though that is the best place you can be. I also agree with Alex in the sense that there is a time for each style and you need to know when and where to use it. :)

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  16. It is a very interesting thing to contemplate as the people who commented display the traits that they themselves realized. I would have to say I am of the more verbose style of writing, however I try to make each one of my words count toward the idea that I am trying to display. #APlangordie #msturner

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  17. I agree that different types of literature need different styles. Such as, I think we can agree that books tend to be more "wordy" or it would be a very fast book where as poems, or magazines, need to be concise so they don't lose the readers attention. Everything has a time and place including being wordy or concise.

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  18. It is fun to see how Latin derivatives are used in modern day speaking. I used to study Latin and Greek in middle school and was constantly analyzing my own speech for the source of the Latin prefixes and suffixes. As for the word succinct, a image of a corset comes to mind, just as you mention having one's belt tightened. While being succinct is sometimes more achieving to the point, being verbose sometimes offers its own interesting perspectives. Either way, words tend to be your best friend. :)

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  19. The English and Latin languages are complex; it's always enjoyable to learn Latin and where English words came from.

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  20. i love the fact that ms. turner uses the word verbose all of the time, and now i actually get to understand the root of the word. I also agree with Sabrina, different types of literature need different styles and without the multitude of styles, every type of literature would be incredibly boring. Everything is opinion based though, some readers would most defiantly prefer something concise or something wordy. #turnertime?

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  22. I definitely thought that the most interesting part of this analysis was how the root of succinct means "to have ones belt fastened tightly." I can assure you I wont forget that. I tend to be more verbose in my argumentative writing than in my rhetorical analysis because when I'm passionate or have a strong opinion I tend to write on and on. I think that depending on your purpose you should very between concise and verbose writing to effectively display your point. #turnertime!

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  23. I also thought that it was interesting how the root of succinct means "to have one's belt fastened tightly." For me, it's easier to understand words when you learn about their roots. I personally think that succinct writing is almost always more effective. Getting the point across without losing the reader's attention should be the goal. However, with some fiction or emotional personal stories, details are important. Each style of writing has its place. #turnertime

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  24. Hey Caleb, Katelyn, Dominic, Sabrina, Maddison, Sam, Megan, & Jenna,
    It's great to have your class here at Wordmonger. I agree bigtime with Jenna. As a writer who loves words & tends toward overusing them, I always feel that belt cinch up when I have to edit out my darlings. At the same, time, I agree that there are genres that lend themselves to a more prolix style. And viva la difference!

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  25. As previously stated, there is a time and a place to be verbose as well as succinct. I tend to be verbose and don't ever stop talking when I am knowledgeable or passionate about a specific topic. On the other side of things, a speech or poem, needs to be straight to the point. I think there is an interesting tie between the background of the word verbose and how it should be used. There is a cultural mix which is exactly how people should speak or write. Intermingle being verbose and also be clear and succinct.

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  26. Succinctness is more necessary to speaking than writing. In speaking, delivery and tone are of greater prominence; less elaboration is required.

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  27. Agreed, Jaron. When speaking if you're overly verbose, people loose attention and the meaning of whatever you were trying to say is lost. Some verbosity is alright, but it should be used with very careful moderation. However, in writing it is most definitely acceptable to be much more verbose, just don't overdo it. Anyways that's just my two cents. #msturner

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  28. First off, Amy I also connected prolix with prolific. I also agree with Jaron because when speaking, it might be easier to understand someone when they are being succinct because I was told today that my stories are to long and hard to follow. Being verbose is good in writing, but use big words with moderation.

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  29. I would have to agree with Jaron that when speaking succinctness is extremely important because you want to make sure your point comes across clearly, easily, and that your audience doesn't become board. In writing, it is easier and more necessary to be verbose to explain an idea because when it is in written word you can always go back to reference it. #MsTurner

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  30. I found the background of succinct being defined as "to have ones belt fastened tightly" simply fascinating! It seems peculiar to me the image that comes to mind. An overweight human struggling to tighten their belt at the tightest notch in hopes of holding in the "extra padding" whearas a verbose belt does not exist...there is nothing being held back. This seems too relate to the art of succinct writing vs. the art of verbose writing. In succinct writing the author is attempting to be concise and pristine. On the other hand it seems as if verbose writing is free flowing and almost as if the writer wrote down every thing that came to their mind. There is an essential need for both succinct and verbose pieces; however, I believe the writer must make this stylistic decision based upon their audience and the subject at hand. While I like to think my writing is well-balanced and I have mastered the fine line between succinct and verbose, I am still learning.

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  31. Depending on the situation verbosity can be appropriate such as a story because it's what draws the reader in- that is if the author uses it in creative ways that keeps the reader interested. However, I agree with as previously stated that in every day conversations, speeches, and poems especially, being succinct can get oneself further and deliver a greater message. #msturner

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  32. I agree with Nikki in the fact that verbosity is key to telling a story. When my friends try to tell a story, I usually lose interest if they don't interest me in what they're saying or how they're saying it. I definitely agree with Annie, and that the key to delivering any piece of writing is through a fine balance of verbosity and succinctness.

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  33. @ Caleb- How did I know you'd post about the differences between men and women! :)

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  34. I agree with McKay and Jaron. Being wordy works well in writing, but being succinct works even better in speaking. I feel that I can understand the speaker's position much better if he/she moves on directly to the point! #msturner

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  35. I would deffinently agree that being smarter with your words and more verbose is stronger in your writting then it is when you are talking to soemone. also when you can read it you are abke to go back and read it again {something you cant really do when listening to someone} and personally i know that i put more verbose laungauge in my writting then i do when im talking

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  36. Greetings Whitney, Jaron, Emmy, McKay, Dylan, Annie, Nikki, William, Seth, Nicholas & The Amazing Ms. Turner,
    It appears the majority favor balance as a goal, with occasional forays one way or the other dependent on situation & audience. Balance is a good thing. Thanks to all of you for popping by. May your lives be grand, & if you have a love for words I hope you might consider returning.

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