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.

  • The fact that he was a New Englander and valued ......, explains why the memos are so long. “It” refers to the previous sentence. – user067531 Aug 26 '19 at 9:56
  • @user067531- as I specifically said in the question, I don't get the efficiency part of the sentence. It would be very helpful if you could explain that. – Vishal Aug 26 '19 at 10:22
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    In the first sentence the phrase "sparse efficiency" means that Gove does not use two words when he can use one. So the second sentence means that when he writes a long memo, that is extraordinary, quite significant. – Weather Vane Aug 26 '19 at 10:33

The expression "it says something" here means "it is significant". My father rarely uses strong language, so it says something that he called the Prime Minister "a lying bastard". Because Gove valued sparse efficiency (he preferred economy in all things) it is significant that his memos in this case were long. It is said by some that New Englanders are famously taciturn.

Sparse and efficiency have their normal dictionary meanings:


adjective ​

small in numbers or amount, often spread over a large area

Sparse (Cambridge Dictionary)



the good use of time and energy in a way that does not waste any

Efficiency (Cambridge Dictionary)

  • To be fair, the fact that he came from New England is intended to be a pointer as to why he "valued sparse efficiency", as the stereotypical New Englander is famously taciturn. – Hellion Aug 26 '19 at 15:36

'It says something that' certainly means 'It is significant that'; for instance

It says something that it's taken 30 years before someone else has come along and done the same thing [motorsportmagazine]

However, when followed by a personal pronoun (So it says something that he) it usually (as here) means 'In the light of this, it's obviously to his credit that ...'. This is a mitigating or at least contrastive sentence connector.

'In the light of this, it's obviously to his credit that the memos are so long.'


Most of the ire was sparked by Carra’s impulsive tweet, and I think it says something that he deleted it afterwards. [TheAnfieldWrap.com_AlbertoMoreno_little perspective_NB]

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