Verbosity

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Verbosity is speech or writing which is deemed to use an excess of words. The opposite of verbosity is succinctness, which can be found in plain language (including Plain English), and laconism.

Some teachers, including the author of The Elements of Style, warn writers not to be verbose. Similarly, some authors, including Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, use a succinct style and avoid verbosity.

Synonyms for verbosity include wordiness, prolixity, grandiloquence, garrulousness, expatiation, and logorrhea. Corresponding adjectival forms are verbose, wordy, prolix, grandiloquent, garrulous, and logorrheic.

Examples of verbosity are common in political speech, academic prose, and other genres.

Style advice[edit]

William Strunk, an American professor of English, wrote about the balance between being clear and being concise in 1918. He advised "Use the active voice: Put statements in positive form; Omit needless words."[1]

In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) Henry Watson Fowler says, "It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly, & still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to the allurements of elegant variation," Fowler's term for the over-use of synonyms.[2] Contrary to Fowler's criticism of multiple words to name the same thing in English prose, in some other languages, including French, it might be thought to be a good writing style.[3][4]

Mark Twain (1835–1910) wrote "generally, the fewer the words that fully communicate or evoke the intended ideas and feelings, the more effective the communication."[5]

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), the 1954 Nobel prizewinner for literature, defended his concise style against a charge by William Faulkner that he "had never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary."[6] Hemingway responded by saying, "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use."[7]

An inquiry into the 2005 London bombings found that verbosity can be dangerous if used by emergency services. It can lead to delay that could cost lives.[8]

A 2005 study from the psychology department of Princeton University found that using long and obscure words does not make people seem more intelligent. Dr. Daniel M. Oppenheimer did research which showed that students rated short, concise texts as being written by the most intelligent authors. But those who used long words or complex font types were seen as less intelligent.[9]

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, one of Polonius's many sententious maxims reads

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,

And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.

However, despite this line becoming proverbial over time, Shakespeare's audiences were not necessarily inclined to read Polonius as someone who is perfectly wise; his sentences, like that of much early modern drama, can easily be seen as part of a comic trope.[citation needed]

Other labels[edit]

The word verbosity comes from Latin verbosus, "word". There are many other English words that also refer to the use of excessive words.

Prolixity comes from Latin prolixus, "extended". Prolixity can also be used to refer to the length of a monologue or speech, especially a formal address such as a lawyer's oral argument.[10]

Grandiloquence is complex speech or writing judged to be pompous or bombastic diction. It is a combination of the Latin words grandis ("great") and loqui ("to speak").[11]

Logorrhea or logorrhoea (from Greek λογόρροια, logorrhoia, "word-flux") is an excessive flow of words. It is often used pejoratively to describe prose that is hard to understand because it is needlessly complicated or uses excessive jargon. The term is also sometimes applied[by whom?] to unnecessarily wordy speech in general.[citation needed]

Sesquipedalianism is a linguistic style that involves the use of long words. Roman poet Horace coined the phrase sesquipedalia verba in his Ars Poetica.[12][non-primary source needed] It is a compound of sesqui, "one and a half", and pes, "foot", a reference to meter. The earliest recorded usage in English of sesquipedalian is in 1656, and of sesquipedalianism, 1863.[13]

Garrulous comes from Latin garrulus, "talkative", a form of the verb garrīre, "to chatter". The adjective may describe a person who is excessively talkative, especially about trivial matters, or a speech that is excessively wordy or diffuse[14]

The noun expatiation and the verb expatiate come from Latin expatiātus, past participle from spatiārī, "to wander". They refer to enlarging a discourse, text, or description.[15]

Examples[edit]

Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, was noted[by whom?] as a grandiloquent speaker, with a florid style unusual even in his era.[citation needed] A Democrat leader, William Gibbs McAdoo described Harding's speeches as "an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea."[16]

Senator Robert C. Byrd (Democrat, of West Virginia) lost his position as Majority Leader in 1989 because his colleagues felt his grandiloquent speeches, often employing obscure allusions to ancient Rome and Greece, were not an asset to the party base.[17] This trait has been exemplified by oratory quoting Shakespeare in reference to the stock market.[18]

The Michigan Law Review published a 229-page parody of postmodern writing titled "Pomobabble: Postmodern Newspeak and Constitutional 'Meaning' for the Uninitiated". The article consists of extremely complicated and highly context sensitive self-referencing narratives about the article itself. The text is peppered with an absolutely excessive number of parenthetical citations and asides, which is supposed to mock the cluttered postmodernist style of writing.[19]

In The King's English, Fowler gives as one of his examples this passage from The Times: "The Emperor received yesterday and to-day General Baron von Beck.... It may therefore be assumed with some confidence that the terms of a feasible solution are maturing themselves in His Majesty's mind and may form the basis of further negotiations with Hungarian party leaders when the Monarch goes again to Budapest."[20] Fowler objected to this passage because The Emperor, His Majesty, and the Monarch all refer to the same person: "the effect", he pointed out in Modern English Usage, "is to set readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude that there is none."

The physicist and storyteller Richard Feynman describes a time when he took part in a conference discussing "the ethics of equality". Feynman was at first apprehensive, having read none of the books which the conference organizers had recommended. A sociologist brought a paper which he had written beforehand to the committee where Feynman served, asking everyone to read it. Feynman found it completely incomprehensible, and feared that he was out of his depth — until he decided to pick one sentence at random and parse it until he understood. The sentence he chose (to the best of his recollection) was, "The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels." Feynman "translated" the sentence and discovered it meant, "People read". The rest of the paper soon made sense in the same fashion.[21]

An example of logorrhea in politics comes from the essay "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell (1946). He took the following verse (9:11) from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible:

"I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

He rewrote it like this:

"Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account."

Orwell’s deliberate usage of unnecessary words only serves to further complicate the statement. For instance, the words "objective", "contemporary" and "invariably" could be cut, with virtually no loss of meaning.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Strunk, William (1918). The Elements of Style. Paris: Feedbooks. 
  2. ^ Fowler, Henry Watson (1994) [1926]. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1-85326-318-7. 
  3. ^ Paterson, Ann (2006). "Painting with words". In Eugenia Loffredo, Manuela Perteghella. Translation And Creativity: Perspectives on Creative Writing And Translation Studies. Continuum. p. 88. ISBN 0-8264-8793-9. ". . . the rule of elegant variation (that is, using synonyms wherever possible), which purists consider to be essential for good style in French." 
  4. ^ Fuller, Frederick (1984). The Translator's Handbook: (with special reference to conference translation from French and Spanish). Penn State University Press. p. 35. ISBN 0-271-00368-5. "Elegant variation French tends to avoid repetition of proper names, with a description of the person, at second reference." 
  5. ^ "Reference for Prolixity". Search.com. [dead link]
  6. ^ Rovit, Earl; Waldhorn, Arthur (2006). Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. Continuum. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-8264-1825-8. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  7. ^ Shapiro, Fred R. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 354. ISBN 0-300-10798-6. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  8. ^ "7/7 inquests: emergency services should use plain English". Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  9. ^ Oppenheimer, Daniel M. (2005). "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly" (PDF). Applied Cognitive Psychology 20: 139–15. doi:10.1002/acp.1178. 
  10. ^ Percy, Sholto; Reuben Percy (1826). The Percy Anecdotes. London: T. Boys. p. 9. 
  11. ^ "Dictionary.com - Grandiloquence". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  12. ^ "Ars Poetica, l.97". Perseus Project. Retrieved 2 February 2011. 
  13. ^ Simpson, J. A.; Weiner, E. S. C. (1989). The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition). Oxford University Press. 
  14. ^ "Dictionary.com - Garrulous". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  15. ^ "Dictionary.com - expatiation". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  16. ^ "Warren G. Harding". The White House. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  17. ^ "At 87, Byrd Faces Re-election Battle of His Career". 2005-05-22. Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  18. ^ "Byrd speech from LOC". Thomas.loc.gov. 2001-03-20. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  19. ^ Arrow, Dennis W. (December 1997). "Pomobabble: Postmodern Newspeak and Constitutional "Meaning" for the Uninitiated". Michigan Law Review 96 (3): 461–690. doi:10.2307/1290146. JSTOR 1290146. 
  20. ^ Fowler, Henry Watson; Fowler, Francis George (1908). The King's English. Clarendon Press. 
  21. ^ Feynman, Richard P. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character. W.W. Norton (USA). p. 184. ISBN 0393019217.