He could talk the hind legs off a donkey (How we talk, Part 1)

a photograph of two young people smiling and talking to each other, with a colourful, illustrated background showing a speech bubble
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by Kate Woodford

This week and next, I’m looking at ways to describe how much – or how little – we speak. There are lots of words (especially adjectives) in this area, with very different connotations, from chatty (=talking a lot in a friendly, informal way) to reserved (=tending not to talk about your feelings or opinions):

Jamie was his usual chatty self.

My grandfather was a quiet, rather reserved man.

This post will cover words and phrases that mean ‘talking a lot’ and Part 2 will deal with the opposite.

Some of the adjectives describe permanent characteristics while others are used for moods and temporary states. A very common word used to describe someone who usually talks a lot is talkative and a less common, rather formal word for this is loquacious:

Over dinner, the usually talkative Sophie was strangely quiet.

The famously loquacious senator did not disappoint.

Another word for someone who talks a lot is garrulous. This is often used disapprovingly, suggesting that the person talks too much, about things that don’t matter:

Barker plays the garrulous taxi driver.

Another negative (and formal) word in this area is verbose. Someone who is verbose uses more words than is necessary to express themselves, usually in a way that is boring:

He has a reputation for being a rather verbose speaker.

Other, more approving, adjectives in this area, for example communicative, forthcoming and (formal) expansive tend to describe a person who at a particular time is willing to talk or give information because they are in the right frame of mind:

He’s never very communicative in the morning.

She clearly didn’t want to talk about her marriage but was more forthcoming about her children.

The manager, in a relaxed and expansive mood, spoke about his philosophy.

There are a few nouns for people who talk a lot. The informal words gasbag and windbag are both rude ways of referring to a person who always talks too much, in a way that is boring. The informal but less rude word chatterbox is used especially for talkative children:

He was a pompous old windbag.

He plays the father, an egotistical gasbag.

Lily’s teacher said she was a bit of a chatterbox in class.

I’ll finish with a nice idiom. Someone who can or could talk the hind leg(s) off a donkey, talks a lot, without stopping:

Sophie’s a nice girl but she could talk the hind legs off a donkey!

If you found this post interesting, do look out for Part 2 on words and phrases for not speaking much.

25 thoughts on “He could talk the hind legs off a donkey (How we talk, Part 1)

  1. Praveen Sharda

    Without your elaborating the meaning, it would have been very difficult ( for me) to comprehend the meaning of the idiom ” could talk the hind legs(s) off a donkey”. Isn’t a difficult idiom?

      1. Raju Khubchandani

        Not obvious for me too. I googled to find the origin of this idiom, and found that it was, “Possibly from Ireland, it has been suggested that the expression refers to the fact that horses or donkeys do not usually sit down on their behinds. So, to talk the hind legs off a donkey or horse is to talk so long that the animal becomes exhausted and collapses.”

        Now that I know it’s origin, it should be easy to remember the meaning of this idiom.

        Excellent article, I liked your discussions of the related words also.

      1. Alison Wells

        Hi! I definitely use these expressions on a regular basis, both at home and at work. It depends on the situation, some are not appropriate in professional situations, but don’t get me started or I’ll go on and on 😉

  2. Ali

    Nice post. I enjoyed it.
    Could you tell me the exact meaning of outgoing, and whether it has anything to do with a propensity to hang out, out of doors, chill with friends etc.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! Thanks! Glad you liked it! ‘Outgoing’ really means ‘sociable’, describing a person who likes meeting and spending time with others. It’s not related specifically to the outdoors. I hope that helps!

  3. Denis

    What a decent range of expressions!
    I also like the word voluble, which traces back to Latin volvere, meaning “to set in a circular course” or “to cause to roll.” English rolled with that meaning, using voluble as an adjective to describe things easily rolling, changing, or turning, and later added the meaning of Latin volūbilis, which implies readily flowing speech. Today, voluble most often describes an individual who speaks easily and often.

    1. madhurima

      Enjoyed reading the post. I am in late forties,guess,it is never too late to enrich one’s knowledge. I didn’t know so many words to express one meaning

      1. Kate Woodford

        Thank you! I’m glad you found it interesting and you’re absolutely right – it’s never to late!

      2. Lulu

        I really enjoy your articles Kate and try to remember unfamiliar words by examples given. Thank you 🌸

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