Ambiguity is text or speech that can have two or more meanings. Circumlocution can also mean using many words (such as "a tool used for cutting things such as paper and hair") to describe something for which a concise (and commonly known) expression exists ("scissors"). In this sense, the vast majority of definitions found in dictionaries are circumlocutory.
Circumlocution is often used by aphasics and people learning a new language, where in the absence of a word (such as "abuelo" [grandfather]) the subject can simply be described ("el padre de su padre" [the father of one's father]). There are three prominent subtypes of Circumlocution called euphemism, innuendo and equivocation.
Euphemistic language is the use of circumlocution to avoid saying words which are under a cultural taboo, such as words which are, or could be, considered offensive. Euphemism, however, is only sometimes circumlocutory. For example, "Holy mother of Jesus!" is a circumlocution of "Mary!", but "heck", while still euphemistic, is not a circumlocution of "hell".
Euphemistic circumlocution is also used to avoid saying "unlucky words" – words which are taboo for reasons connected with superstition. For example, calling the devil "Old Nick",[note 1] calling Macbeth "the Scottish Play" or saying "baker's dozen" instead of thirteen.
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Similarly, innuendo, refers to something suggested but not explicitly stated.
Equivocation is the use of ambiguous language to avoid telling the truth or committing oneself. For example, a person might not want to divulge his relationship status. Therefore he talks about his significant other without making concessions as to their relationship. Instead of saying "She made dinner for me last night", an equivocational statement would be "'Dinner was already made for me last night".'
Another example is the use of equivocation to deceive others without blatantly lying. For example, if a mother asks her child to clean a throw rug, and the child replies that they will "hang the rug and beat it" instead of saying they will "clean it", they could mean that they will forget about the rug (hang it) and quickly leave (beat it).
In Oral Poetics
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Poetic circumlocution is commonly used in oral poetics. It is, in fact, a definitive characteristic of many oral poetic traditions. Riddles, for example, are circumlocutory poetic games. Charms, spells and other incantations are another form of circumlocutory oral poetics. Circumlocution is often even a sacred injunction, of which the Judaic law prohibiting the uttering of the name of God is but one example among many.
African oral poetics constantly employs circumlocution, as does African American poetics. The Blues, for example, whose lyrics consist of an endlessly suggestive stream of imaginative metaphors, are defined by circumlocutory poetic logic, as Ben Sidran makes clear in his book Black Talk: "The direct statement is considered crude and unimaginative; the veiling of all contents in everchanging paraphrase is...the criterion of intelligence"
That African-American circumlocutory sensitivity and skillset was amplified and intensified by slavery and racial oppression in the US, as John Sobol makes clear in his book, Digitopia Blues - Race, Technology and the American Voice. The historic restrictions preventing slaves and their descendents from speaking their minds frankly, combined with their Afrocentric circumlocutory skills, gave rise to a wide range of circumlocutory idioms in America, from scat singing and jive talk to jazz itself, which Sobol argues is a circumlocutory language. "Jazz is the voice denied words."
- Analytic language
- Auxiliary verb
- Compound (linguistics)
- "Speak of the devil, and he will appear" is the proverb.
- "periphrasis - definition and examples of periphrasis (rhetoric)". Grammar.about.com. 1953-08-10. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
- "Ambage" in American Heritage, and Dictionary.com
- Gail Ramshaw (1 January 1996). Liturgical Language: Keeping it Metaphoric, Making it Inclusive. Liturgical Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8146-2408-1. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "ambiguity - definition of ambiguity by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
- Máire Byrne (8 September 2011). The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: A Basis for Interfaith Dialogue. Continuum. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-4411-5356-2. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "innuendo - definition of innuendo by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
- New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.
|Look up circumlocution in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|