I read this in Word by Word by Kory Stamper:

Don’t think that Gove was a windbag: he was a New Englander and valued sparse efficiency in all things (including lexicography). So it says something that the memos are so long.

Does the latter sentence's construction have some idiomatic significance because it in itself doesn't seem to make much sense? And what does "sparse efficiency" mean in this context? Does it have something to do with New England being sparsely populated? But I'm not getting the "efficiency" part.

  • it says something that [blah blah] = it is significant / means something that [blah blah]. In such contexts, something is something of an "understatement" - the implication is usually that it says / means a lot that [blah blah] (which is another common way of saying the same thing). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 25 '19 at 15:59
  • @FumbleFingers- do you have any thoughts about what "sparse efficiency" imply? That would be very helpful. – kelvin Aug 26 '19 at 0:28

I understand "he valued sparse efficiency in all things" to mean that he would not waste money, time, or any other resource - even his own words - and that he would use the absolute minimum he could. His use of resources would be both sparse - not using many of them - and efficient - achieving maximum effect using few resources.

The first sentence is really saying that because Gove was like this, his writing was terse or to-the-point. The second sentence is saying that because his writing was usually terse, it is significant that he wrote these long memos.

Because he usually did not use many words, it says something that in this case he did.

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