Circumlocution

In school, you are taught conciseness. You want to clearly communicate your idea in as few words as possible. Circumlocution is the opposite of this. Circumlocution is a communication strategy that involves using many more words than you need.

Circumlocution Circumlocution

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Contents
Table of contents

    Definition of Circumlocution

    A basic definition for circumlocution is as follows:

    Circumlocution is using more words than necessary to describe something.

    You can use circumlocution for good and bad reasons. You can further divide it into figurative circumlocution and evasive circumlocution.

    Definition of Figurative Circumlocution

    This is a positive way to use circumlocution.

    Figurative circumlocution is using a description of a word in place of the word.

    Here's an example:

    It is a drop of glass with a wide base full of clear water, gracefully escalating to a narrow opening, out of which a single lily bloomed.

    This example uses figurative circumlocution to describe a vase. It uses more words than is necessary. Note that figurative circumlocution never says the name of the word it replaces (e.g., "vase" is not said here).

    Figurative circumlocution is useful when using figurative language.

    Figurative language, also known as figures of speech, is a method used to describe something where the words or expressions mean something different than their literal meaning.

    Circumlocution is not strictly necessary when writing. However, writers will use circumlocution to be artful or to create distance between the reader and the subject. For instance, if a writer is describing a space alien who sees a cat for the first time, the writer might use circumlocution like this:

    The furry, whiskered quadruped made a sound like a desperate child.

    More simply, you could write "the cat meowed." However, by using circumlocution, the writer captures what the alien witnesses and thus brings the writer closer to the alien's perspective on the cat.

    Circumlocution is also a strategy to help those with aphasia. Aphasia is when someone uses the wrong word to describe something. Circumlocution is helpful to combat aphasia because circumlocution doesn't emphasize individual words. Instead, it uses many words to describe something.

    Definition of Evasive Circumlocution

    The other kind of circumlocution is something you should avoid.

    Evasive circumlocution is an extended description or explanation that evades the discussion topic.

    This is the more common usage for circumlocution. Here's an example:

    Did you enter the abandoned hotel?

    There are many ways into a big place and a lot of ways you can wind up where you don't mean to. There are big holes, broken glass, and graffiti everywhere. I've never entered a place that doesn't look like a war zone.

    This is an extremely long way to say "Yes," when "yes" would do. This is not an honest explanation of why this person entered the abandoned hotel. It is a wordy explanation to avoid guilt.

    Both modes of circumlocution are extended ways to say something simple. However, figurative circumlocution is helpful or artistic, while evasive circumlocution is unhelpful and disingenuous.

    Evasive circumlocution is related to the logical fallacy (rhetorical fallacy) because it is dishonest.

    A logical fallacy is employed like a logical reason, but it is actually flawed and illogical.

    There are many logical fallacies, ranging from equivocation to the ad hominem argument.

    Not all long explanations are circumlocution. Sometimes, a simple yes or no does not suffice because the question is a false dichotomy (meaning, there are more answers besides yes and no). Before you call something evasive circumlocution, be sure you have reason to do so besides the long explanation. A long answer is not necessarily a sign of guilt.

    Circumlocution Communication Strategies

    Here is how you analyze circumlocution in various modes of communication.

    Analyzing Figurative Circumlocution Strategies

    In language and literature, you will most often encounter figurative circumlocution in fiction and nonfiction stories.

    Take a look at this example of circumlocution:

    It wound through the canyon like an enormous blue snake, its lichen-colored boulders like scales.

    This example uses circumlocution to describe a river because at no point is the word "river" used, only a description of what the river is like. This example also uses figurative language because there is not a literal snake in the canyon, only a snake as it expresses a river.

    Circumlocution, An image of a blue river running through a canyon, StudySmarterFig. 1 - You can use circumlocution to describe anything you want.

    This example of circumlocution is also a simile.

    A simile compares two things using "like" or "as."

    Steps to Analyzing Circumlocution

    When analyzing circumlocution, identify these essential things.

    • What does the circumlocution communicate?

    This passage communicates that an intimidating river runs through the canyon.

    • How does the circumlocution communicate this?

    By describing the river as a monstrous snake, the writer implies that the river is uncontrollable, dangerous, twisting, and always moving. The circumlocution gives life and vibrancy to the river.

    • Why does the circumlocution communicate this?

    The author wants to present the river as something the characters battle, the way a knight battles a dragon. The river is the monster to be defeated.


    This analysis requires knowledge of the complete passage, but you should get the idea. In your analysis, use the entire passage to explain "what, how, and why."

    Analyzing Evasive Circumlocution Strategies

    To identify circumlocution as evasive, look for these three things.

    1. An indirect answer. Any form of an indirect answer that's longer than what you think is required could be a use of circumlocution.

    2. Reticence. If the writer or speaker continually avoids saying something in simpler terms when they could, there is a chance that they are using circumlocution.

    3. An ulterior motive. This is the big one, and it will help you decide whether someone is using evasive circumlocution or is simply trying to explain a complex answer. You must be able to identify why someone is being wordy. There is no quick check to determine this, so you must read the passage (or listen to the speaker) carefully.

    If you read a circumlocution, be sure to read the passage completely before drawing a conclusion.

    Circumlocution Examples

    Here are two examples of circumlocution. Based on the limited context, try to identify which one is a figurative use of circumlocution and which one is an evasive use of circumlocution.

    #1

    We tried talking. We tried working it out. I closed in, and he moved. He moved, then I closed in. Things happened so fast that you can't say what happened first, second, or third, or who started what.

    #2

    Tensions rose, and we started throwing punches, slinging kicks, and chucking anything we saw— all in vain attempts to make the other be quiet.

    Circumlocution, An image of two people fighting, StudySmarterFig. 2 - What kind of circumlocution is described?

    Here are the answers:

    The first example uses evasive circumlocution, a reply to a question like: Did you start the fight?

    The second example uses figurative circumlocution. It is a long way of saying, "We fought."

    Activities to Practice Circumlocution

    If you want to master circumlocution as a form of figurative language, here are some ways to practice.

    Define Words to Practice Circumlocution

    Take a word like "stone," and think of ways you can define it. For example, a stone is a hard, cold piece of the earth that shatters into more of itself.

    Try it with these words:

    • Pot
    • Hammer
    • Hat

    Say What Something Is Like to Practice Circumlocution

    Try your hand at creating short similes. A simile is saying something is like something else. For example, a stone is like glass that you can't see through. Try to be creative! For example, a stone is like a villain's heart.

    Try it with these words:

    • Flower
    • The moon
    • Snow

    Start Writing to Practice Circumlocution!

    There's no better way to practice circumlocutions than to give it a go. Try to use what you've practiced with definitions and similes to write a complete circumlocution. Remember, your goal is to describe a word artfully without using the word!

    Try it with these words:

    • Dog
    • Rain
    • Axe

    Synonyms for Circumlocution

    Euphemisms and innuendo are related to figurative circumlocutions.

    Euphemisms are alternate words or explanations for taboo words and concepts to sound less offensive.

    For instance, "H-E-double hockey sticks" is a euphemism for "hell." This is also a circumlocution for the word "hell."

    Innuendo is the use of alternate language to imply something covertly.

    Innuendo is similar to euphemism, except innuendo usually applies to actions as opposed to single words or ideas.

    Idioms and slang terms might be forms of innuendo.

    Circumlocution - Key Takeaways

    • Circumlocution is using more words than necessary to describe something.
    • Figurative circumlocution is using a description of a word in place of the word.
    • Writers will use circumlocution to be artful or to create distance between the reader and the subject.
    • Evasive circumlocution is an extended description or explanation that evades the discussion topic.
    • Evasive circumlocution is unhelpful, disingenuous, and attempts to evade guilt.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Circumlocution

    What is circumlocution?

    Circumlocution is using more words than necessary to describe something.

    What is an example of circumlocution?

    "It is a glass flute with a bowl on one end and a single orifice on the other" is a positive, figurative use of circumlocution to describe a bottle.

    What is a synonym for circumlocution?

    Euphemisms, innuendos, and metaphors are all related to circumlocution, but they are not synonyms.

    What are the reasons for using circumlocution in communication?

    Figurative circumlocution is useful when using figurative language. Circumlocution is also a strategy to help those with aphasia.

    What are the disadvantages of using circumlocution?

    Using circumlocution to evade answering a question is dishonest, and it leads you into the realm of logical fallacy.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which is the bad way to use circumlocution?

    Figurative circumlocution is using a description of a word in place of _____.

    What kind of circumlocution is this?It is a drop of glass with a wide base full of clear water, gracefully escalating to a narrow opening, out of which a single lily bloomed.

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