Words to Describe the Way People Talk

By Maeve Maddox

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If there is any one interest and practice shared by every human being on earth, it’s talking—usually to other people, but not always.

Unsurprisingly, these 7.9 billion talkers possess numerous words for different ways of talking.

Many speech words in English derive from other world languages, so the following collection is representative of more than just English-speakers.

The many nouns and adjectives in this collection will be organized under four English words that come from the Latin word for speech: loqui.

loquacious: talkative

Fiction writers creating a persona can draw from a wealth of synonyms for the exact type of loquaciousness to reflect character:

voluble: Characterized by fluency or glibness of utterance; rapid and ready of speech; fluent.

garrulous: Characterized by garrulity; full of long rambling statements, wordy.

[garrulity: (n): The quality of being garrulous, loquaciousness.]

chatty: Given to light easy talk

gabby: Fond of talking; chatty; talkative; (also) fluent in speech. In later use sometimes: annoyingly or excessively talkative; garrulous.

windy: given to long, drawn-out descriptions and explanations; long-winded

motormouthed: Given to talking fast and incessantly;

eloquent: Possessing or exercising the power of fluent, forcible, and appropriate expression.

articulate: capable of engaging in lucid, fluent, or confident speech or self-expression; well-spoken.

In recent times, articulate has entered the slippery world of possible microaggressions.

[microaggresion (n) A statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination or prejudice against members of a marginalized group such as a racial minority.]

The use of articulate as an example of microaggression is mentioned in a recent article in Business Insider:

“When a white colleague tells a colleague of color ‘You’re so articulate’ or ‘You speak so well,’ the remark suggests that they assumed the person in question would be less articulate — and are surprised to find out they aren’t,” [Christine] Mallinson told Business Insider.—Business Insider, 1 March 2021.

glib: readiness of speech that conveys thoughtlessness, insincerity, and deceit.

I associate the word glib with Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan, who, to secure their inheritance, flatter their father with extravagant professions of love they do not feel for him. The third daughter, Cordelia, on the other hand, loses her father’s favor because she lacks “that glib and oily art, to speak and purpose not.”

grandiloquent: high-flown, extravagant, or bombastic style or manner.

Eloquence is good; grandiloquence is over the top.

A less pompous synonym for this type of speech is bombastic.

bombastic: inflated language; high-sounding language on a trivial subject.

Many television pundits and newscasters employ the bombastic style on topics of extreme inconsequence.

soliloquy: An instance of talking to or conversing with oneself, or of uttering one’s thoughts aloud without addressing any person.

I doubt that any of us who do indeed talk to ourselves would label the practice as soliloquizing. We would say, if we are willing to admit it, that we “talk to ourselves.”

A kindred word is monologue, which is used with more than one meaning.

Like a soliloquy, a monologue can be a speech given by a character in a play. Another meaning is the joke-laden speech that opens the late-night comedy talk shows. In fiction, the story can advance through the “inner monologue” of one of the characters.

A CEO might call a meeting for the purpose of discussion, but do all the talking with the result that the discussion becomes a monologue. Finally, there is the use of monologue to describe what happens when a person monopolizes an informal conversation with a long-winded account of some personal adventure of minor interest to others.

Unlike the abundance of words for talking, the words for remaining silent are not so numerous.

A person suffering from stage fright might become tongue-tied.

People affected by astounding news are said to be speechless, or dumbstruck. On its own, dumb, like mute, refers to an inability to speak.

Dumb, meaning “unable to speak” has fallen out of use in reference to human beings because it has taken on the meaning of foolish or stupid. Although the internet is now rife with articles about “dumb animals” in the sense of “stupid animals,” the phrase is still used in its original sense to refer to creatures that lack the power of speech:

The abuses and cruel treatment to which dumb animals in our midst are sometimes subjected move me greatly.

Some people are not big talkers by choice. The word for them is taciturn, from Latin taciturnus, “not talkative; noiseless.”

taciturn: characterized by silence or disinclination to conversation; reserved in speech; saying little; uncommunicative

The old Western movie heroes like Gary Cooper were notably taciturn.

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