Verbosity or verboseness is speech or writing that uses more words than necessary (for example, using "Despite the fact that" instead of "Although"). The opposite of verbosity is plain language. 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, are known for their avoidance of verbosity.
Synonyms for verbosity include wordiness, verbiage, prolixity, grandiloquence, garrulousness, expatiation, logorrhea, and sesquipedalianism.
Examples of verbosity are common in political speech, academic prose, and other genres.
Etymology and synonyms
The word verbosity comes from Latin verbosus, "wordy". There are many other English words that also refer to the use of excessive words.
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 to unnecessarily wordy speech in general.
Sesquipedalianism is a linguistic style that involves the use of long words. Roman poet Horace coined the phrase sesquipedalia verba in his Ars Poetica. 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.
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
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.
The word logorrhea is often used pejoratively to describe highly abstract prose that contains little concrete language. Since abstract writing is hard to visualize, it often seems confusing or excessive. Works in academic fields that involve many abstract ideas, such as philosophy, often fail to include extensive concrete examples of their ideas.
An essay intentionally filled with "logorrhea" that mixed physics concepts with sociological concepts in a nonsensical way was published by physics professor Alan Sokal in a journal (Social Text) as a scholarly publishing sting. The journal defended the article's publication since it fell under several publication criteria, but regretted it as it was a sting that contributed to the disparaging of science studies or cultural studies. The episode became known as the Sokal Affair.
The term is sometimes also applied to unnecessarily wordy speech in general; this is more usually referred to as prolixity. Some people defend the use of additional words as idiomatic, a matter of artistic preference, or helpful in explaining complex ideas or messages.
Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, was notably verbose even in his era. A Democratic leader, William Gibbs McAdoo, described Harding's speeches as "an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea."
Senator Robert C. Byrd (Democrat, of West Virginia) lost his position as Majority Leader in 1989 because his colleagues felt his speeches, which often employed obscure allusions to ancient Rome and Greece, were not an asset to the party base.
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 complicated and context-sensitive self-referencing narratives. The text is peppered with number of parenthetical citations and asides, which is supposed to mock the cluttered style of postmodern writing.
In The King's English, Fowler gives a passage from The Times as an example of verbosity: "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." 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." Fowler would go on to call this phenomenon "Elegant variation" in his later style guides (see below).
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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. Contrary to Fowler's criticism of several words being used to name the same thing in English prose, in some other languages, including French, it might be thought to be a good writing style.
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), the 1954 Nobel laureate 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."
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.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
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.
"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."
and rewriting it as
"Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels 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."
- Bloviation, a style of empty, pompous political speech
- Bullshit bingo
- Gift of the gab
- Glittering generality
- List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents in English
- Loaded language
- Logorrhea (psychology)
- Nonscience (book)
- Sokal affair
- Tautology (rhetoric)
- "Removing Word Clutter". Roane State.
- Percy, Sholto; Reuben Percy (1826). The Percy Anecdotes. London: T. Boys. p. 9.
- "Dictionary.com - Grandiloquence". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- "Ars Poetica, l.97". Perseus Project. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
- Simpson, J. A.; Weiner, E. S. C. (1989). The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition). Oxford University Press.
- "Dictionary.com - Garrulous". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
- "Dictionary.com - expatiation". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
- The Sokal Affair
- "Warren G. Harding". The White House. Archived from the original on 2012-07-26. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
- "At 87, Byrd Faces Re-election Battle of His Career". 2005-05-22. Retrieved 2014-01-23.
- 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.
- Fowler, Henry Watson; Fowler, Francis George (1908). The King's English. Clarendon Press.
- William Zinsser. "Simplicity". On writing well: An informal guide to writing nonfiction. New York: Harper & Row.
- Strunk, William (1918). The Elements of Style. Paris: Feedbooks.
- Fowler, Henry Watson (1994) . A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1-85326-318-7.
- Paterson, Ann (2006). "Painting with words". In Eugenia Loffredo, Manuela Perteghella (ed.). 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.
- 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.
- "Reference for Prolixity". Search.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011.
- Rovit, Earl; Waldhorn, Arthur (2006). Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. Continuum. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-8264-1825-8. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
- Shapiro, Fred R. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 354. ISBN 0-300-10798-6. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
- "7/7 inquests: emergency services should use plain English". Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
- 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.
- Feynman, Richard (Nov 1, 1992). Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman. Vintage Random House. p. 9.
'his almost compulsive need to solve puzzles, his provocative mischievousness, his indignant impatience with pretension and hypocrisy, and his talent for one-upping anybody who tries to one-up him'
- Susskind, Leonard (January 2011). My friend Richard Feynman (Speech). TED Talks. Caltech. Retrieved 5 Jan 2015.
What Feynman hated worse than anything else was intellectual pretense -- phoniness, false sophistication, jargon
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