Has the cat got your tongue? (How we talk, Part 2)

a yawning tabby kitten

by Kate Woodford

My last ‘How we talk’ post focused on words used for people who talk a lot, including adjectives such as ‘talkative’ and ‘forthcoming’. This week, I’m looking at the opposite – words that we use for people who say very little.

A common word for this is quiet. ‘Quiet’ can describe someone who generally doesn’t talk much, or someone who is talking less than usual at a particular time:

She was a quiet, thoughtful girl, unlike her brother.

Lara seemed a little quiet over dinner. Is she okay?

A slightly formal word for this, used generally for someone who is quiet by nature, is taciturn:

I interviewed the famously taciturn coach in ’93.

The adjectives abrupt and short describe someone who uses too few words in a way that sounds unfriendly and slightly impatient:

She can be a little abrupt at times.

Sorry if I was a little short with you in the meeting this morning.

Terse and curt are often used for a comment that is brief and rather impatient:

They later issued a terse statement, denying all responsibility.

Her response was curt: “We will not be changing our policy.”

Someone who speaks very little – one or two words only –  is sometimes described as monosyllabic:

Taylor plays the sullen, monosyllabic teenager.

Other adjectives, for example guarded, tight-lipped and unforthcoming, describe someone who is rather secretive about a particular subject and so reluctant to say much:

They are tight-lipped about their plans going forward.

She is invariably guarded in interviews, polite but not forthcoming.

He is resolutely unforthcoming on the subject.

Meanwhile, an adjective for someone who is quiet because they are a little unhappy or anxious is subduedI thought Harry seemed a bit subdued – didn’t you?

Now let’s look at the idioms in this area. A man/woman of few words is a man/woman who generally says very little:

A woman of few words, she delivered a characteristically brief and to the point address.

If you are annoyed with someone because they won’t speak, you might say Has the cat got your tongue?

What’s the matter? Has the cat got your tongue?

Someone who doesn’t waste words says only what is important, using few words:

She didn’t waste words but it was generally worth listening to what she said.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these two posts and have learned a few useful words and phrases.

20 thoughts on “Has the cat got your tongue? (How we talk, Part 2)

  1. Stacey

    Thank you a lot. I’ll definitely learn these expressions and put them to use in the right circumstances. And if there are none, I’ll make them up to practice my English more.

  2. Matt Neumann

    Oh, but we’re missing my favorite word of this type, “laconic”! Makes me think of squinting, dusty cowboys and grim-jawed WWII field commanders. Wikipedia has some great examples of laconic phrases, but the definition of the word comes from the famed terseness of the ancient Spartans, and their home region named Laconia.

  3. Oliana

    No doubt it’s a post well worth reading.
    However, speaking of “men/ women who don’t waste words”, but then somehow forgetting to mention a very fine descriptor *laconic* (or, *laconically*) as well… was rather unfortunate.

Leave a Reply