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elliptical (i-LIP-ti-kuhl) adjective (also elliptic)

1. Pertaining to or having the shape of an ellipse.

2. Marked by ellipsis (omitting words).

3. Characterized by extreme economy of expression in speech or writing; cryptic or ambiguous.

[From Greek elleiptikos (defective), from elleipsis (to come short), from leipein (to leave). The word eclipse has the same root.]

"What did he and the truck earn in a typical year? A good year? His responses were strictly elliptical."
John Mcphee; A Fleet of One; The New Yorker; Feb 17, 2003.

"He (Warren Beatty) has written a somewhat elliptical piece for the New York Times condemning the grip of big money on American politics, and has another piece coming out in the Los Angeles Times."
Warren Beatty's Profession; Economist (London, UK); Sep 4, 1999.

Why in the world would three seemingly unrelated phenomena -- a plane curve, a punctuation mark, and a writing style -- be represented by a single word? A glance at the etymology and everything falls in place. The common thread here is `shortfall': whether an ellipse, a shape that falls short of being a circle; a sentence that is short of a few words; or terse writing. Let's peruse a few more words about words that also apply to math (US) or maths (elsewhere). -Anu


Sometimes even to live is an act of courage. -Lucius Annaeus Seneca, writer and philosopher (BCE 3-65 CE)

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