You have to wonder what’s going on in their heads, or what’s wrong with them. They are quite suspicious!
“They” are those who, though present in a group or conversation, don’t say much and have to be prodded to deliver a contribution of any sort. Notwithstanding context, one may not have reason to expect any given person to participate in any given gathering (for example, in any given class, there will be plenty of students who sit through the whole thing without saying anything, and this is normal). In any social situation, however, where it might be normal for everyone to say something, it is then that we become curious about or leery of those who are taciturn (TASS’it’urn).
Being taciturn can be the result of a couple of different things. Discomfort, disgruntlement, stupidity, fatigue, and good, old-fashioned introversion are all contributors. Being a mute, however, is not. This is because to be taciturn is to be disinclined to speak (that is, to have no desire to speak up or out). It is not to be confused with being unable to speak. You would be wrong to put duct tape over someone’s mouth and then accuse them of being taciturn.
Most of us have experienced the presence of someone taciturn at some point or another. It’s often at a mandatory-attendance type of festivity, such as an office party. Any instance where people are required to gather and be friendly and confabulatory is likely to evince those who, frankly, would rather not be there, who stand by the punch bowl or sit in the corner paging through whatever magazine is on hand despite having no interest in the subject of its contents. A common cause of such scenarios is “drag-along spouse syndrome”, in which the husband or wife of a person who is having an office Christmas party has been towed in with their significant other despite having no interest in attending or knowing anyone at hand. This will bring out an episode of taciturn behavior in even the most garrulous of folk.
You may also encounter the taciturn on more serious occasions, where a problem must be resolved or a group project undertaken. Often, one member of such a group will sit quietly by and let others do the work. This may be the result of bland unoriginality or apathy, but it may also be because they’re taciturn: they’re opinionated, they have ideas… they just have no desire to share them or speak out (or even be there in the first place, most likely). A common cause of this is that the individual—whom you know to have strong views on the matter—feels that his/her views are so contrary or unpopular that there is no point in speaking them.
“Taciturn” is not a word to be used much when dealing with taciturn individuals (asking someone who is disinclined to speak why it is that they’re disinclined to speak is rather like expecting to drive your broken-down car to the auto shop… the taciturn individual will probably give a one-word answer, shrug, or glare until you go away). Rather, the word is handy for referring to the particular personality or attributes of those who—even if you know them to be feeling, caring, thoughtful, original individuals—prefer to sit with their arms crossed, leaned back, and watch the conversation unfold around them instead of involving them.
— Mark Jacobs, Prose Editor
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mark Jacobs. Mark is Jet Fuel Review’s prose editor. He is an Aviation major, but the left side of his brain is an avid writer. Mark is a junior and works a few hours a week as a tutor in the Writing Center.