Logophile Language Puzzlers: A Birthday Bash and a Laconic CEO

Is it biannual, biennial, or semiannual? And how does a laconic person respond to a question? Test your language knowledge with the March/April 2018 Logophile quiz.

1. Marvin only celebrates his even-numbered birthdays, but he makes his ______ birthday parties twice as lavish.

  1. biannual
  2. biennial
  3. semiannual


2. When asked if he had misused company funds, the laconic CEO

  1. quoted seven different definitions of misused.
  2. told an involved joke about a man trying to sell a used yacht.
  3. simply said “no.”


3. Otto likes hotshots but not braggarts, intestines but not viscera, and a teammate but not a coworker. What does Otto like?


Answers and Explanations

1. b. biennial

If Marvin celebrates only his even-numbered birthdays, that means he throws a lavish party every two years. Having a hard time deciding whether that makes them biannual or biennial? It’s a common problem — the bi- prefix can indicate both “every two” and “twice.”

The English language has settled on biennial to mean either “every two years” or “lasting for two years.” Biannual has been used to mean both “twice a year” and “every two years” so often that it will always cause confusion, so you should general avoid using it. (And it gets even more confusing in words like biweekly and bimonthly.)

Semi- means “half” (as in semicircle), so a semiannual party would occur every half-year — or twice a year. So it is with semiweekly (twice a week) and semimonthly (twice a month).

2. c. simply said “no.”

Laconic is an adjective that means “using the least number of words, often to the point of seeming rude or mysterious,” so a laconic CEO might simply say “no” to a direct question.

A CEO who quotes seven definitions of misused or who launches into an unrelated joke about a man selling a yacht might be, depending on his motives, disputatious (“provoking or inclined to debate”), dissembling (“hiding one’s true motives or feelings”), bloviating (“speaking verbosely or windily”), or equivocating (“avoiding committing oneself to a specific answer”).

3. Otto likes words in which each letter appears exactly twice.

Other words that fall under this category include arraigning, concisions, and scintillescent (“twinkling faintly”), as well as reduplicative words like beriberi, mahi-mahi, and mama.