Figure Name circumlocution
Source Silva Rhetoricae (; Ad Herennium 4.32.43 ("circumitio"); Bede 614 ("perifrasis"); Putt. (1589) 203 ("periphrasis," "the figure of ambage") ; Vinsauf (1967) ("periphrasis (circuitio, circumlocutio)"); De Mille (1882); Hill (1883); Waddy (1889)
Earliest Source None
Synonyms circumlocutio, circumitio, periphrasis, perifrasis, the figure of ambage, circuitio
Etymology None
Type None
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. As the name implies, "talking around" something, usually by supplying a descriptive phrase in place of a name (periphrasis).

Circumlocutions are rhetorically useful as euphemisms, as a method of amplification, or to hint at something without stating it. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Since a word, a short sound, passes swiftly through the ears, a step onward is taken when an expression made up of a long and leisurely sequence of sounds is substituted for a word. In order to amplify the poem, avoid calling things by their names; use other designations for them. Do not unveil the thing fully but suggest it by hints. Do not let your words move straight onward through the subject, but, circling it, take a long and winding path around what you were going to say briefly. Retard the tempo by thus increasing the number of words. This device lengthens brief forms of expression, since a short word abdicates in order that an extended sequence may be its heir. Since a concept is confined in one of three strongholds - in a noun, or a verb, or a combination of both - do not let the noun or verb or combination of both render the concept explicit, but let an amplified form stand in place of verb or noun or both. (Vinsauf)

3. Circumlocution is another characteristic of verbosity. It means a roundabout mode of speech, where, instead of a direct statement of meaning, the words are multiplied to an unnecessary extent. When properly employed this is a recognized figure of speech (periphrasis), but the kind now under consideration is that which results from carelessness. It is characterized by the tedious accumulation of unnecessary explanations or unmeaning definitions; by an excessive use of epithets; and, in general by an imposing array of words which circle about the subject without tending to any definite conclusion. (De Mille)

4. 3. Circumlocution.
Circumlocution is the result of indistinctness or timidity of thought. (Hill)

5. (4) By circumlocution.
This is effected by saying indirectly what might be said directly, or by using several words to express the sense of one; as, "the terrestrial sphere" for "the earth," "night's gentle radiance" for "the moon," and similar expressions. In general, this mode of variation is not advisable, as the statement is likely to lose in force. (Waddy)

5. (3) By circumlocution, or a roundabout, diffuse way of expressing thought.
A lengthened, roundabout mode of speech is allowable for the sake of variety or emphasis, or when a direct assertion might be offensive; but when none of these ends in accomplished, it is feeble and affected. (Waddy)


4. So good a writer as Lord Brougham has written this vaporous sentence:
"Among the eminent men who figured in the eventful history of the French Revolution was M. Talleyrand; and whether in that scene, or in any portion of modern annals, we shall in vain look for one who represents a more interesting subject of history." (Hill)

5. For example: "That night Richard Penderell and I went to Mr. Pitchcroft's, about six or seven miles off, where I found the gentleman of the house, and an old grandmother of his, and Father Hurlston, who had then the care as governor, of brining up two young gentlemen, who, I think, were Sir John Preston and his brother, they being boys." (Waddy)

Kind Of Identity
Part Of
Related Figures figures of amplification, figures of definition, antonomasia, periphrasis, systrophe, circuitio
Notes 4. Circumlocution is often employed to express delicately, and hence vaguely, what one does not wish to say plainly. It is in this case an ingenious rhetorical device, but cannot be regarded as a legitimate factor of a good style. (Hill)
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Samantha Price
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
Reviewed No