Why brief as a verb means to give information thoroughly and even as a noun it means a legal document, given to a barrister, containing all the information about a case but as an adjective it means containing few words?

There's a document called brief, given to a barrister, which is not at all brief. It's concise and detailed. Then why do they call it a brief?

Even as a verb it means to give an information thoroughly, then how brief as an adjective means short?

If I'm asked in exam to answer a question in brief. Which perspective am I going to use? Brief as an answer solely or brief according to that particular topic which is asked? Now the size of a brief answer can be subjective. To me, a brief answer can be a paragraph. To the other person, it could be one or two more paragraphs but with accordance to the topic, it will always be objective (depend on individual topic).


I don't think it's a contranym. Even a legal brief, which may be detailed, is far smaller than sum total of all of the source material that it is drawn from (interviews, police reports, original documents, etc.). You described a legal brief as "concise," which means "containing no unnecessary words." And that's what makes a legal brief also brief in the adjectival sense: it contains as few unnecessary words and irrelevant information as possible and all extraneous material from the source documents has been removed.

So if you're asked to answer an exam question "in brief," then you're being asked for only the most necessary information to answer that question without any extra details. How many words that requires is going to depend on the fundamental complexity of the issue being asked about.

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  • Good answer. Maybe you could add as similar explanation showing that a "briefing" is the shortest conversation you can have to give someone the necessary information, shorter than e.g. a panel discussion. – Tashus Oct 10 '18 at 16:12
  • can a detailed thing be brief. For example: "I have a flat tire because it was punctured by a nail I drove over." Detailed version: I have a flat rear offside tyre (BrE) because I drove over a piece of wood with a copper nail sticking up through it in my drive at 17 Postuke Close, Erewhon, EW12 7BF, at 10.37 this morning. Isn't the detailed version still brief(short) if seen in terms of brevity? Although it has all the details and it cant get any more detailed the text is still not long while the detailed thing is often long ; it's kind of a characteristic of it. – user82515 Oct 15 '18 at 1:20
  • It depends on the context. Are those details relevant and useful information? If not, then the listener would probably judge the answer as "too long" and "not brief". If, however, those details are absolutely required, then, so long as there's no unnecessary extra information, that answer can still be judged as "brief". – Canadian Yankee Oct 15 '18 at 17:22

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