The noun locution comes from a Latin verb meaning “to speak.” As an English noun it means “a form of expression.” The prefix circum- is also from Latin and means “around.”
Circumlocution, therefore, means “expressing oneself in a round about way.”
Circumlocution has its uses. Alexander Pope uses it to comic effect in his mock epic, The Rape of the Lock, as when he refers to a little pair of scissors as “a two-edged weapon” and a “little engine.”
Politicians, educators, and other people who want to manipulate our perceptions of reality find circumlocution an effective means of obscuring meaning or making something ordinary seem special or profound. For example,
economical with the truth
mistakes were made
text-to-text connections (comparison of two books)
extended constructed response (essay)
brief constructed response (paragraph)
selected response (multiple choice)
As can be seen from the examples, euphemism is a type of circumlocution, as are many clichés.
Euphemism: referring to something unpleasant by more pleasant words, for example, “passed away” for died.
Cliché: a stereotyped or commonplace expression, for example, “It was raining cats and dogs.”
Here are some examples of circumlocution from the web; italics mine:
The Committee must afford an opportunity for public comment at each of its meetings. –Illinois General Assembly statutes.
At this point in time, we do not have evidence of consumers postponing expenditure plans, which is something one would observe in a deflationary environment,” Draghi told a symposium organized by the Bundesbank. –European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.
Why does the University have a requirement for health insurance as condition of enrollment?
According to Brandimonte this was due to the fact that the subtraction task was easier…
The department may peremptorily suspend the driving privilege of the person until such time as the licensee shall have submitted to re-examination.
The examples could be rewritten to avoid circumlocution:
“The Committee must permit public comment…”
“At this time, we do not have evidence…”
“Why does the University require health insurance…”
“According to Brandimonte this was because…”
Here, with suggested translations, are some prepositional phrases that often contribute to circumlocution:
in light of the fact (because)
in reference to (about)
with the exception of (except)
in the event of (if)
in a timely fashion (quickly)
notwithstanding the fact that (although)
on the grounds that (because)
in view of the fact that (because)
Circumlocution for stylistic effect can be useful to create a humorous effect or to create a pompous or deceitful fictional character. In writing intended to convey information in a straightforward manner, however, circumlocution is a major stylistic defect.
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