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Merriam-Webster definition #4 of 'oyster': 'an extremely taciturn person'.

Since Online Etymology Dictionary says nothing about, can anybody say when and how 'oyster' assumed that meaning?

4

An oyster will keep its shell shut and resist it being pried open.

A synonym is a clam

clam (v.) "to dig for clams," 1630s, American English, from clam (n.). Clam up "be quiet" is 1916, American English, but clam was used in this sense as an interjection mid-14c.

Taciturn: tending to be quiet : not speaking frequently

UPDATE re: Mark Twain

I see the posted quote from OED which puts it at 2. Feb 1873

‘Mark Twain’ Let. in C. Clemens My Father, Mark Twain (1931) iv. 47 The Tribune review of Roughing It was written by the profound old stick who has done all the Tribune reviews for the last 90 years. The idea of setting such an oyster as that to prating about Humor!

but are we convinced he meant silent? I think he might mean "old and hard-shelled" since it is unlikely to have a quiet and silent book reviewer assigned to a news paper. - If this is the review it is not matching the description of a clam: http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/roughingit/rirev14.html

It is actually a quite positive review...

Here is a request for a reviewer who understands the book

http://www.marktwainproject.org/xtf/view?docId=letters/UCCL00856.xml;style=letter;brand=mtp

  • but who first used that word (oyster, not clam), and when? – user51029 Sep 19 '13 at 12:24
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    Whoever in the 14th century had an oyster instead of a clam to compare with I would think :) Fairly obvious synonym – mplungjan Sep 19 '13 at 12:30
  • 1931, instead :( – user51029 Sep 19 '13 at 13:43
  • Ahem, 2nd Feb 1873 – mplungjan Sep 19 '13 at 14:19
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The Oxford English Dictionary says of oyster:

4. A reserved or uncommunicative person. Cf. clam n.2 2.

a1910 ‘Mark Twain’ Let. in C. Clemens My Father, Mark Twain (1931) iv. 47 The Tribune review of Roughing It was written by the profound old stick who has done all the Tribune reviews for the last 90 years. The idea of setting such an oyster as that to prating about Humor!

  • I see the quote, but are we convinced he meant silent? I think he might mean "tough and hard-shelled" since it is unlikely to have a quiet and silent book reviewer assigned to a news paper. – mplungjan Sep 19 '13 at 14:07

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