Tag Archives: succinct

How do you say “succinct”?

My latest article for The Week looks at a divide that not everyone is even aware is a divide: how people say the word succinct – and a few other cc words such as flaccid and accessory… and why there would be any divergence on the subject at all.

A succinct but not flaccid examination of English pronunciation


Look, someone’s left nail clippings in this word, cc c. You can hear the clipper: “succinct, succinct.”

Maybe I’m wrong, though. Could be bellows, this word. It sounds like “sucks in,” as in breath. And you can whisper it well while sucking in your breath.

It slices the air around your tongue like a scalpel, this word. As Jim Taylor puts it, “Such a nice word, with all those sucking sounds, and those pursed-lip c’s, ending with the distinct smack. Sounds of suck, of course, but also vestiges of sphincter locking tight. Argument sucked dry, closed, no loopholes left…” Quick. Tight. A cinch.

Literally a cinch. A cinch, after all, is a sort of girdle on a horse to help hold a saddle on. The word cinch comes from Spanish cincha ‘girth’, which can be traced to Latin cingere ‘gird’. And it is that that undergirds this word: sub ‘under’ plus cingere is succingere, and the past participle is succinctus. Undergirded. Girdled. A bit of verbal belt-tightening. (Economic belt-tightening may be because of lean waists from lean diets, but verbal belt-tightening is more like corseting, tightening up to display to greater advantage the more salient parts.)

Still, as succulent and sexy a lexical succubus as succinct is, it’s not as terse as terse. Nor as curt as curt.