From ventriloquist to sialoquent: 8 ‘loqui’ words to get you talking
If I were to ask you what you thought about loqui, you might (especially if you happen to be my friend Kate) just go into raptures about Tom Hiddleston. Since this is written down, though, you’ll spot that I’m not talking about Loki – rather, I’m speaking about speaking. The Latin loqui, ‘to speak’, pops up in the etymology of some common words, including eloquence, locution, elocution, circumlocution, and so forth. But it also appears in a fair few that you’re less likely to stumble across. Let’s take a look at loqui.
This is the word that got me thinking. You don’t see that many ventriloquists around nowadays – Saturday night entertainment seems to have evolved rather – but we’re probably all familiar with the definition: ‘a person, especially an entertainer, who can make their voice appear to come from somewhere else, typically a dummy of a person or animal.’
Its earliest uses (and the now-obsolete synonym ventriloquus) associated the practice with devilry. But how do ventriloquists actually do it? The etymology gives the games away – along with loqui, it comes from venter, meaning ‘belly’.
Anybody who has studied Shakespeare at school has doubtless written the word soliloquy a number of times – many of his characters, particularly the tragic ones, loved a good soliloquy. It’s ‘an instance of talking to or conversing with oneself, or of uttering one’s thoughts aloud without addressing any person’, or a literary production representing this – Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy being perhaps the most famous example. It comes from solus, ‘alone’ (the same root as solo and sole) – and the earliest known use of soliloquy comes just three years before Shakespeare died.
Another theatrical term that Shakespeare probably didn’t use (how’s that for a segue?), anteloquy was ‘an actor’s cue’ – as well as being ‘a preface’ or ‘the first turn in speaking’. This multifaceted word is now obsolete, but comes from the Latin prefix ante-, ‘before, in front of’.
Alieniloquy might sound like communicating with creatures from outer space, but it actually means ‘an instance of straying from the subject one is supposed to be talking about; rambling or evasive talk.’ It comes from the broad sense of alien as an adjective – ‘belonging to another person, place, or family’ – and is now rare. Though, given how common the practice is, perhaps we should find more opportunities to use it.
Here’s another one that doesn’t mean quite what you’re expecting. Blandiloquy is rare and obsolete, and you’re unlikely to find it outside of the 17th century, but I thought it worth mentioning to highlight the changing use of bland. When I saw the word, I assumed it referred to uninteresting speech – but while it comes from the same word we use today, bland used to mean ‘smooth and suave in manner’. The Latin blandus meant ‘soft, smooth’, and it was only over time that the idea of gentleness and smoothness evolved to mean ‘uninteresting’. Blandiloquy, then, is ‘flattering speech’.
Look, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about astrological treatises – but in case your history is rusty, the Centiloquium is a hundred aphorisms of astrology. It used to be attributed to Ptolemy, but is in fact a little more recent than this first-century figure. It is now widely believed to have been written during the ninth or tenth century, originally appearing in Arabic as Kitāb al-Ṯamara, ‘Book of Fruits’. The English word comes from centum, ‘hundred’, and centiloquium can also be used to refer to any collection of a hundred sayings. Just in case you had any lying around.
Something that might be welcome from some, pauciloquy is ‘the use of few words when speaking; economy of speech’, coming from the Latin pauciloquium, ‘the fact of saying little’. Similar is parciloquy – ‘a short speech; the quality of speaking little’ – from parcus, ‘sparing’. There’s a certain irony in there being these two words to get essentially the same job done.
Finally, a word that means ‘to speak like the Australian singer-songwriter Sia’. No, wait, let me check my notes. It turns out that sialoquent pre-dates the songstress by a few centuries – and means spitting a lot while one speaks. The earliest known use comes from Thomas Blount’s snappily-titled Glossographic; or, A dictionary interpreting all such hard words, whether Hebrew, Greek or Latin… as are now used in our refined English tongue.
Blount seems to have had a thing for loqui words, also furnishing the Oxford English Dictionary with the current first evidence for tortiloquy, ‘crooked talk’; graviloquence; ‘speaking gravely’; tardiloquent, ‘speaking slowly’; planiloquent, ‘plain-speaking’; doctiloquent, ‘speaking learnedly’; duciloquent, ‘speaking sweetly’; flexiloquent, ‘speaking words of doubtful or double meaning’; and inaniloquent, ‘full of empty or idle talk’. One can only imagine the sort of conversationalists Blount knew.