Do We Really Need “Verbiage” and “Verbage”?

By Maeve Maddox

Libby Lewis writes:

Today I wanted to comment to someone that a flyer they had designed contained too many words. I stopped short mid-sentence wondering if the right word to use was “verbage” or “verbiage”. Dictionary.com surprised me by defining “verbage” as

“A deliberate misspelling and mispronunciation of verbiage that assimilates it to the word ‘garbage’…More pejorative than ‘verbiage’”  

So I looked up “verbiage”and found “overabundance or superfluity of words, as in writing or speech; wordiness; verbosity”

I thought “verbiage” simply referred to the use of words, but I see I was wrong. All this led me to a new question and to you for the answer:  Is it redundant to say that something contains “too much verbiage”?

Lots of questions here.

verbiage
This is one of those “missing i words” I’ve written about in the past: verbiage, foliage, miniature. Not everyone pronounces the “i” in these words, with the result that they are often misspelled as “verbage,” “folage,” and “minature.”

The OED gives two definitions for verbiage:

1. Wording of a superabundant or superfluous character, abundance of words without necessity or without much meaning; excessive wordiness.
2. Diction, wording, verbal expression.

The first definition is the more common, but the second is still frequent.

Is “too much verbiage” redundant?
If the first OED definition is meant, then yes, “too much verbiage” would be redundant. It would be enough to say, This flyer suffers from verbiage. Another way would be to say that the text is “long-winded” or “too wordy.”

Nevertheless, we often hear and read such expressions as “too much verbiage,” “excess verbiage,” and “excessive verbiage.” Perhaps the writers of these expressions have the second definition in mind.

verbage
The OED has an entry for “verbage” as a “rare alternate spelling of verbiage.”

Merriam-Webster offers variant pronunciations of verbiage, but does not mention “verbage” as an alternate spelling or as another word.

The Dictionary.com definition that describes “verbage” as an assimilation of verbiage with garbage is not worth the consideration of writers whose goal is to write a form of standard English. We already have a wealth of words that can convey the worthlessness of words, one of which is garbage.

Case of the Missing “i”s
How to Describe Gibberish


31 Responses to “Do We Really Need “Verbiage” and “Verbage”?”

  • Maeve

    Steve,
    The second definition of “verbiage” in the OED is not a “misuse.” It’s just another meaning for the spelling “verbiage.” It’s the Dictionary-dot-com definition that offers a different meaning for the nonstandard spelling “verbage.”

    By all means, we celebrate our living language and learn to navigate its wonderful contradictions by reading as much and as widely as possible.

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