Word: circumlocution

Pronunciation: sər-kəm-lə-KYOO-sh(ə)n

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Have you ever tried having a discussion with someone who insisted on stalling the conversation to no end or using a thousand words for something that could have been said in three? I’m sure we’ve all met people like that before, but while some simply like to hear themselves talk, others deliberately use this practice as an evasive maneuver to avoid an unpleasant topic. The way they see it, when verbal confrontation is inevitable, a good escape route is “circumlocution”!

“Circumlocution” is the use of many words where fewer would suffice, typically in an attempt to be evasive or vague. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin noun circumlocutio, meaning “indirect speech”. This noun comprises the adverb circum “around” and the verb loqui “to speak”.

Fun fact: I learned this word while reading about the same video game character who inspired my post on the word “nihilism“, as he tends to be vague about the reason behind his laziness for fear of upsetting his loved ones with his discovery. Interestingly, the Latin word for “circumlocution” is probably a translation of the Greek noun periphrazein “periphrasis”, defined as “the use of indirect and circumlocutory speech or writing”. Because of this, these two words are possibly interchangeable, though notably the latter’s definition makes no reference to a deliberate use of indirect speech to be evasive. If your characters try to avoid unpleasant topics of discussion with long and vague speeches, you may enjoy pointing out the “circumlocution” in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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