Terse Is Neatly Compact

The sound of the word “terse” would lead you to think perhaps this reflects only a tense and cutting personality.

However, terse is a composite of many emotions. The terse person is usually polished, smooth and elegant. Another who is terse might be brusque and short.

terse | adjective

1 : smoothly elegant : polished
2 : using few words : devoid of superfluity <a terse summary>; also short, brusque <dismissed me with a terse “no”>

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With its origins in Latin, its root, tersus, means clean and neat. Researching the word “terse” showed me as a writer I could not only develop a character of many proportions from this adjective, but also could learn a bit about my writing style.

In my career as a legal secretary/administrator, an attorney for whom I worked for a short period was terse.  There were times when it seemed that he had no time to answer my questions or share the time of day.  Over time, I came to understand that this was a man who did not believe in wasting his words or breath.  However, in the courtroom, he dazzled judges with his terse arguments and closing statements — concise, to the point, simple.  This attorney was well-trained, both from the standpoint of time management and the legal aspects of his clients’ needs.

The writing tip in the definition above is held in the words “using few words : devoid of superfluity.”

Instructors and coaches teach us we should write tight, ridding our writing of any unnecessary words.  In essence, we are to be terse writers.

Examine some of your writing to see if indeed you are a terse writer, or is this something you need to be conscious of more often.

The more information passed along with the fewest words may make for more readers, happy readers, well-informed readers.

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14 thoughts on “Terse Is Neatly Compact

  1. I had no idea. I guess it shows we occasionally need to look up the origins of familiar words to get a new handle on them. I could apply this to a few people… though now, in a much more interesting way. Thanks Sherrey.

    1. I’m not consistent with looking up words and learning their origins or committing their secondary meanings to memory. Learned with this post that it’s useful to do so!

      1. I discovered once, when trying to help someone, that the ancient word “balm” did not mean soothe in Hebrew, I think it may have been? It meant to spin out impurities, like being in a centrifuge. It certainly wasn’t a comforting way out of a problem, but would have been more effective in taking out the toxins. I become much more aware of what I was praying and saying after that one.

  2. I loved getting this word lesson on “terse.” I didn’t know it could mean smoothly polished and elegant, but I can see how it could since terse writing is often elegant and packed with meaning.

    1. Tyrean, the words polished and elegant in connection with terse surprised me too. As you state, terse writing is “often elegant and packed with meaning.” Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I used to know a girl who I wish I could emulate. She was terse. Spoke seldom but when she did everyone listened.

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