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Verbosity (also called wordiness, prolixity, grandiloquence, garrulousness, expatiation, and logorrhea.) refers to speech or writing which is deemed to use an excess of words. Adjectival forms are verbose, wordy, prolix and garrulous. Examples are the expressions "in the vicinity of" (which can be replaced with "near") and "in order to" (which can usually be replaced with "to"). The opposite of verbosity is succinctness that can be found in plain language (or plain English) and laconism.
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." 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."
Prolixity, from Latin prolixus, "extended" can take many forms in writing.
She came over near me and smiled with her mouth and she had little sharp predatory teeth. ... He walked slowly across the floor towards us and the girl jerked away from me ...—Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
This could be seen either as an effective stylistic device (e.g. expressing excitement or suspense), or as unnecessary bloating of language. The decision often rests with the reader.
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"). It is often used by people in elevated political positions.[original research?]
"America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality..."
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. This trait has been exemplified by oratory quoting Shakespeare in reference to the stock market.
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In linguistics and editing, 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. Writers in academic fields which concern themselves mostly with the abstract, such as philosophy, especially postmodernism, often fail to include extensive concrete examples of their ideas; so an examination of their work might lead one to believe that it is all nonsense,[original research?] hence the pejorative epithet "pomobabble" (a portmanteau of postmodernist babble). For example, 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.
The term is also sometimes less precisely applied[by whom?] to unnecessarily wordy speech in general;[original research?] this is more usually referred to as prolixity. Some people[who?] defend the use of additional words which sometimes look unnecessary as idiomatic, a matter of artistic preference, or helpful in explaining complex ideas or messages.
In his essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946), the English writer George Orwell wrote about logorrhea in politics. 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. What both the Bible and Orwell were trying to say could be paraphrased (albeit abstrusely) in three words: "Success is stochastic".
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.
Further examples are easy to find or create:
- The medical community indicates that a program of downsizing average total daily caloric intake is maximally efficacious in the field of proactive weight-reduction methodologies.
- (i.e., "Doctors say the best way to lose weight is to eat less".)
Benefits of being concise
Some authors may feel that using long and obscure words may make them seem more intelligent. A recent study from the psychology department of Princeton University found that this was not the case. Dr. Daniel M. Oppenheimer did research which showed that students rated those with short, concise text, as being texts written by the most intelligent authors. But those who used long words or complex font types were seen as less intelligent.
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.
- Elegant variation
- Gift of the gab
- List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents in English
- Logorrhea (psychology)
- Nonscience (book)
- Plain English
- List of plain English words and phrases
- Politics and the English Language an essay by George Orwell
- Sokal Affair
- Tautology (rhetoric)
- The Elements of Style: A Style Guide for Writers by William Strunk 1918
- "Strunk, William, Jr. 1918. The Elements of Style". Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- "Reference for Prolixity". Search.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- Rovit, Earl; Waldhorn, Arthur (2006). Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 162. ISBN 9780826418258. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
- The Yale book of quotations. Yale University Press. 2006. p. 353. ISBN 9780300107982. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
- "The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page: Apocrypha". Samueljohnson.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- q:Julius Caesar
- Percy, Sholto; Reuben Percy (1826). The Percy Anecdotes. London: T. Boys. p. 9.
- "Dictionary.com - Grandiloquence". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- Grandiloquence - etymology[clarification needed]]]
- "Quote Details: Warren G. Harding: America's present need is...". The Quotations Page. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- Lutton, Wayne. "Book Review of 'Warren G. Harding' by John Dean". The Social Contract. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- q:Warren G. Harding
- At 87, Byrd Faces Re-election Battle of His Career[clarification needed]]]
- "Byrd speech from LOC". Thomas.loc.gov. 2001-03-20. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- 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.
- 7/7 inquests: emergency services should use plain English: the Telegraph, retrieved 11 March 2011
- Oppenheimer, D. M. (2005). "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly", Applied Cognitive Psychology.