Ancient Greek History

Art of the Laconic Phrase in Ancient Greece

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Most of us know that the Spartans in Ancient Greece had a reputation for being fearsome soldiers. The entire society was structured to support their warrior culture, and at one point, they were one of the largest and most successful city-states in all of Greece. However, they weren’t only known for being a warrior society. They are credited with originating a concept called the, “laconic phrase,” because of their succinct, often humorous manner of speaking. Here’s more information about what a laconic phrase really is:

Definition of a Laconic Phrase

According to Merriam-Webster, the word laconic means, “using or involving the use of a minimum of words : concise the point of seeming rude or mysterious.” This phrase is almost directly related to the origins of the word, which came from the area of Greece known as Laconia, which is where the city-state of Sparta originated. Back then, the Spartans were known for their terse, effective way of speaking. Back in Ancient Greece, mastering this type of speech was desirable and it was considered an art form. The modern-day word, laconic, is directly related to the original concept. The goal of the Laconic phrase was to use as few words as possible to make your point.

The Laconic Phrase Used During War

One of the most famous examples of what a Laconic phrase is had to do with King Philip II of Macedon, who was in the process of launching a major campaign that would eventually lead to him controlling most of Ancient Greece. As part of the campaign, he sent a note to Ancient Sparta saying:

“You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”

In response, Ancient Sparta replied to King Philip’s threat with a simple, one word response, “If.” Basically, that one word response was more than just a statement. It was a threat. Sparta was saying that if Philip tried to do it, the Spartans would fight. The message they were conveying was that they were informing Philip that he should just stay away from Sparta. On another occasion, King Philip asked the Spartans if he should approach them as a “friend or a foe.” The Spartans replied back with a simple word, “Neither.” Ultimately, King Philip avoided Sparta altogether and later on, so did his son, Alexander.

The Laconic Phrase Used for Humor

A subset of the laconic phrase was something known as, “laconic humor.” The Spartan city-state wasn’t only known for being warriors. They were also known for their dry wit and humor. As with the more imposing, almost warlike version of the laconic phrase, the goal of Laconic humor was to be as funny as possible in as few words as possible. This is in keeping with the Spartan style – to say a lot with as few words as possible.

The Ancient Spartans were known for being more than just warriors. They valued a unique form of speaking known as the Laconic phrase.


Wikipedia – Laconic phrase

Merriam-Webster – Laconic

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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