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Verbosity, or verboseness, is speech or writing that uses more words than necessary.[1] The opposite of verbosity is succinctness.[dubiousdiscuss]

Some teachers, including the author of The Elements of Style, warn against verbosity. Similarly Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, among others, famously avoid it.

Synonyms of "verbosity" include wordiness, verbiage, prolixity, grandiloquence, garrulousness, expatiation, logorrhea, sesquipedalianism, and overwriting.

Etymology and synonyms[edit]

The word verbosity comes from Latin verbosus, "wordy". 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.[2]

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").[3]

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.

Sesquipedalianism is a linguistic style that involves the use of long words. Roman poet Horace coined the phrase sesquipedalia verba in his Ars Poetica.[4] It is a compound of sesqui, "one and a half", and pes, "foot", a reference to meter (not words a foot long). The earliest recorded usage in English of sesquipedalian is in 1656, and of sesquipedalianism, 1863.[5]

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[6]

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.[7]

Overwriting is a simple compound of the English prefix "over-" ("excessive") and "writing", and as the name suggests, means using extra words that add little value. One rhetoric professor described it as "a wordy writing style characterized by excessive detail, needless repetition, overwrought figures of speech, and/or convoluted sentence structures."[8] Another writer cited "meaningless intensifiers", "adjectival & adverbial verbosity", "long conjunctions and subordinators", and "repetition and needless information" as common traps that the non-native writers of English the author studied fell into.[9]

Scientific jargon[edit]

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 episode became known as the Sokal Affair.[10]

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.[11]


Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States, was notably verbose even for his era.[12] 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."[13]

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 a number of parenthetical citations and asides, which is supposed to mock the cluttered style of postmodern writing.[14]

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.[15]

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.

Style advice[edit]

The ancient Greek philosopher Callimachus is quoted as saying "Big book, big evil" (μέγα βιβλίον μέγα κακόν, mega biblion, mega kakon),[16] rejecting the epic style of poetry in favor of his own.[clarification needed]

Many style guides advise against excessive verbosity. While it may be rhetorically useful[1] verbose parts in communications are sometimes referred to as "fluff" or "fuzz".[17] For instance, William Strunk, an American professor of English advised in 1918 to "Use the active voice: Put statements in positive form; Omit needless words."[18]

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.[19] Contrary to Fowler's criticism of several words being used to name the same thing in English prose, in many other languages, including French, it might be thought to be a good writing style.[20][21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

In contrast to advice against verbosity, some editors and style experts suggest that maxims such as "omit needless words"[18] are unhelpful. It may be unclear which words are unnecessary, or where advice against prolixity may harm writing. In some cases a degree of repetition and redundancy, or use of figurative language and long or complex sentences can have positive effects on style or communicative effect.[11]

In nonfiction writing, experts suggest that a balance must be struck between, on one hand removing excessive elements that do not aid communication, versus unduly terse style on the other hand, which fails to make its meaning clear. Law professor Neil Andrews suggests that in the writing of legal decisions, for example, "A balance must be struck between judgments which are inadequately reasoned and too terse, cryptic and formulaic, and decisions (especially when multiple judgments are given by an appellate court) which are too long and difficult to unravel."[24] In such cases attention should be paid to the argument underlying a conclusion, so that the language used strikes a balance between simplicity and precision.

A number of writers advise against excessive verbosity in fiction. For example, 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."[25] Similarly 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."[26] 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."[27]

George Orwell mocked logorrhea in "Politics and the English Language" (1946) by taking verse (9:11) from the book of Ecclesiastes in the King James Version of 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.

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.

In contrast, though, some authors warn against pursuing concise writing for its own sake. Literary critic Sven Birkerts, for instance, notes that authors striving to reduce verbosity might produce prose that is unclear in its message or dry in style. "There's no vivid world where every character speaks in one-line, three-word sentences," he notes.[28] There is a danger that the avoidance of prolixity can produce writing that feels unnatural or sterile.

Physicist Richard Feynman has spoken out against verbosity in scientific writing.[29]

Wordiness is common in informal or playful conversation, lyrics, and comedy.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Removing Word Clutter". Roane State.
  2. ^ Percy, Sholto; Reuben Percy (1826). The Percy Anecdotes. London: T. Boys. p. 9.
  3. ^ "Dictionary.com - Grandiloquence". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
  4. ^ "Ars Poetica, l.97". Perseus Project. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  5. ^ Simpson, J. A.; Weiner, E. S. C. (1989). The Oxford English Dictionary (Second ed.). Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ "Dictionary.com - Garrulous". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
  7. ^ "Dictionary.com - expatiation". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
  8. ^ Nordquist, Richard (2 April 2018). "Definition and Examples of Overwriting : Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  9. ^ Demír, Cuneyt (2019). "Writing Intelligible English Prose: Conciseness vs. Verbosity". Söylem Filoloji Dergisi. 4 (2): 487–488. doi:10.29110/soylemdergi.617184. ISSN 2548-0502. Archived from the original on 26 August 2021.
  10. ^ The Sokal Affair
  11. ^ a b Stern, Aurthur A. (1967). "How to write less efficiently". The English Journal. 56 (1): 114–117. doi:10.2307/812704. JSTOR 812704.
  12. ^ "Word of the Day: Bloviate". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2023-03-29.
  13. ^ "Warren G. Harding". The White House. Archived from the original on 2012-07-26. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Fowler, Henry Watson; Fowler, Francis George (1908). The King's English. Clarendon Press.
  16. ^ Valverde, José; Maxwell-Stuart, Peter; Río, Martín (2022-12-28). Investigations into Magic, an Edition and Translation of Martín Del Río's Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex: Volume 6. BRILL. p. 1. ISBN 978-90-04-46896-2.
  17. ^ William Zinsser (1994). "Simplicity". On writing well: An informal guide to writing nonfiction. New York: Harper & Row. Bibcode:1994wwai.book.....Z.
  18. ^ a b Strunk, William (1918). The Elements of Style. Paris: Feedbooks.
  19. ^ Fowler, Henry Watson (1994) [1926]. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1-85326-318-7.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "7/7 inquests: emergency services should use plain English". Telegraph. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 11 March 2011.Closed access icon
  23. ^ Oppenheimer, Daniel M. (2005). "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly" (PDF). Applied Cognitive Psychology. 20 (2): 139–15. doi:10.1002/acp.1178.
  24. ^ Neil Andrews (2015). Contract Law. Cambridge University Press. p. 607. ISBN 978-1-107-06168-2.
  25. ^ "Reference for Prolixity". Search.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011.
  26. ^ Rovit, Earl; Waldhorn, Arthur (2006). Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. Continuum. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-8264-1825-8. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  27. ^ Shapiro, Fred R. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 354. ISBN 0-300-10798-6. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  28. ^ Adria Haley (2011). 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-59963-242-1.
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ Charles (Carlos) Fabara (19 December 2020). The Concise Expression Handbook.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dan Lyons, "On Mute: Overtalkers are everywhere – but saying less will get you more", Time, vol. 201, nos. 3–4 (30 Jan., 6 Feb. 2023), pp. 62–66.