Containing or stating briefly all the essentials of something; comprehensive and concise.
[Middle English, from Late Latin compendiōsus, abridged, shortened, from Latin compendium, a shortening; see COMPENDIUM.]
Usage Note: Traditionally, something that is compendious contains all the essentials in a handy format. It is therefore both comprehensive and concise. This inherent tension—to be comprehensive, it must include abundant detail, yet to be concise, it must be somehow condensed—opens the word up to varied interpretations. Sometimes it is used where expansive, extensive, or even capacious might be a better fit. The Usage Panel dislikes these usages, perhaps because they fly in the face of the word's etymology. In our 2005 survey, 64 percent rejected the sentence Although the investigators gave compendious details on what went on inside the prison, they only told part of the story. Similarly, 66 percent found unacceptable A good journalist needs a compendious memory. But the fact that a third of the Panel accepted these sentences suggests that there is some confusion about the word even among well-educated writers. The traditional use itself did not gain more than 65 percent of the Panel's acceptance in compendious handbooks that provide a greater wealth of information than most students will ever have the opportunity to enjoy, where the emphasis falls on the comprehensive rather than the concise. And when the word is used as a synonym of succinct, a majority of the Panel rejects it. Some 58 percent found unacceptable the sentence The report would have been more admirably compendious if the editors had cut it by fifty pages. So in many cases it might be best to avoid compendious and choose another word.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.