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Circumlocution (also called circumduction, circumvolution, periphrasis, kenning,[1] or ambage)[2] is a phrase that circles around a specific idea with multiple words rather than directly evoking it with fewer and apter words. It is sometimes necessary in communication (for example, to avoid lexical gaps that would cause untranslatability), but it can also be undesirable (when an uncommon or easily misunderstood figure of speech is used).[3] Roundabout speech is the use of many words to describe something that already has a common and concise term (for example, saying "a tool used for cutting things such as paper and hair" instead of "scissors").[4] Most dictionaries use circumlocution to define words. Circumlocution is often used by people with aphasia and people learning a new language, where simple terms can be paraphrased to aid learning or communication (for example, paraphrasing the word "grandfather" as "the father of one's father"). Euphemism, innuendo and equivocation are different forms of circumlocution.


Euphemistic language often uses circumlocution to avoid saying words that are taboo or considered offensive. 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.


Innuendo refers to something suggested but not explicitly stated.[5]


Equivocation is the use of ambiguous language to avoid telling the truth or forming commitments.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Speak of the devil, and he will appear" is the proverb.


  1. ^ "periphrasis – definition and examples of periphrasis (rhetoric)". 1953-08-10. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
  2. ^ "Ambage" in American Heritage[permanent dead link] and
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "innuendo – definition of innuendo by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  6. ^ New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

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