By Dr Oliver Tearle
How many ways are there of describing somebody who is fond of talking? Although talkative is a common (and accurate) word for such a person, there are other options available to the writer or speaker. Here are some of the best synonyms for talkative.
LOQUACIOUS is a good synonym for talkative, and it is a curious literary origin: it’s thought to be one of a number of words (others include terrific and pandemonium) coined by the poet John Milton (1608-74) in his 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost: ‘Confessing soon, yet not before her / Judge Bold or loquacious, thus abasht repli’d’.
Loquacious is from the Latin meaning ‘to speak’, the same root that also gives us eloquent and elocution, among other words.
Because of its opening lithe l- sound and its pleasing qu- and s- sounds, loquacious is a rather nice, even sweet, way of describing somebody who talks a lot. The same can’t be said of GARRULOUS, which – thanks to its harsh initial g- sound, conveys a less laudatory attitude towards the person who won’t stop GABBLING.
Such a mood is borne out by the word’s etymology, too: garrulous is from a Latin verb which means ‘chatter’ or ‘prattle’, and prattling is inane or trivial talk rather than something more edifying or worthwhile.
A more neutral word is COMMUNICATIVE, which simply means that somebody is happy to communicate with, and specifically to talk to, others: someone who is CONVERSATIONAL or who is OPEN in their conversation.
A trio of v-words are worth mentioning here too: someone who is talkative is VOCAL, i.e., fond of using their voice; and VOLUBLE. This latter means specifically that somebody is GLIB or FLUENT in their conversation: not just fond of talking but quite good at it, with the words coming to them easily and smoothly. Another v-word worthy of inclusion is VERBOSE: somebody who is WORDY in either writing or conversation, even using too many words. PROLIX is a more formal way of describing such wordiness.
A more informal synonym for such talkativeness is CHATTY: someone who is predisposed to chat with people, especially in an informal, social setting. The OED’s earliest citation for chatty is from around 1741, when Elizabeth Montagu used the word in a letter, deploying the marvellous simile, ‘As chatty as your parrot.’
GUSHING and EFFUSIVE, meanwhile, both suggest somebody who is enthusiastic in their conversation and probably say a bit too much.
And a trio of b-words, BLATHERING, BLETHERING, and BABBLING, all imply somebody who doesn’t necessarily make much sense when they’re prattling on. The first of these gave rise to the wonderful (and sadly underused) word BLATHERSKITE, denoting someone who talks a great deal without making much sense. Mark Twain co-opted this word for the name of one of his many pet cats.
A pair of ‘windy’ words are also relevant here, LONGWINDED and WINDBAG. The former is an adjective that describes someone who speaks at length, usually employing ten words when one would have done; the latter is a term for such a person. Polonius, the wordy counsellor from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a good example of a windbag from the world of literature.
We’ve already mentioned blatherskite and windbag, so let’s conclude this list of talkative synonyms with some curious and useful (and underused) nouns to describe people who are fond of talking.
CHATTERBOX seems the logical place to begin, a term which has been in use since the eighteenth century, and was possibly influenced by CLAPDISH, an obsolete term for ‘a talkative mouth’. CHATTERER is a less jocular term for the same thing as a chatterbox.
A BLATTEROON, meanwhile, is another term for someone who will not stop talking, and a BALATRON is a babbling buffoon.
VANILOQUENCE is vain and foolish talk, QUONKING is side-line chatter that disturbs a performer on stage during a performance, and to EXPLATERATE means to talk a great deal. To DEBLATERATE, meanwhile, is another way of saying to babble.
The opposite of being talkative is, of course, not talking, so being QUIET, RESERVED, or even fully SILENT.
However, even more relevant here are a couple of adjectives, TACITURN and RETICENT. These are both ideal antonyms for talkative because they refer specifically to talking, and denote people who are fond of using few words rather than many.
LACONIC is another good word for someone who is a person of few words. It means ‘affecting a brief style of speech’ (OED), and is named after Laconia, an ancient region of Greece whose capital was Sparta. Famously, spartan denotes something which is sparse or bare or minimalist; laconic complements this adjective, referring specifically to speech. This is because the Laconians were famous for their brief style of speech and writing. In one memorable exchange, Philip of Macedonia sent a messenger to Sparta with a message for the Laconian people: ‘If I invade Laconia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.’ The Laconians simply replied: ‘If’.