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

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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.

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.

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

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33 thoughts on “Do We Really Need “Verbiage” and “Verbage”?”

  1. This post brings to mind another of my pet peeves: the growing use of “signage” in lieu of “signs.” Bureaucrats love to use it, and now developers have been infected. I pray that the press resists.

  2. Does it? If so that would surprise me, as I would expect them above all to distinguish ‘alternative’ (one other) from ‘alternate’ (every other one in a sequence)! I believe you’ve covered this ground before.

  3. Why would “too much verbiage” be redundant if verbiage referred to abundance? Just because you have a lot of something, an abundance, that doesn’t mean it’s too much. Maybe the problem lies in the word “overabundance.” Who says there’s such a thing? It’s usually the person who doesn’t have enough. I’d like an abundance of money, but that doesn’t mean that an abundance would be too much for me. Also, and this is for the sake of argument, many times we need to thoroughly explain a point, but to do so without going over the line is a bit of an art. On the other, other hand, if we define verbiage as “too much,” then when we say that there’s too much verbiage, we are actually saying there is “too much too much,” and we can’t get more redundant than that. Or can we? Well, I’m afraid that I’m crossing the line at this point, so I will take my fingers off my keyboard.

  4. I’m glad you addressed this word because I learned it in vocabulary class in high school, but I don’t use it too often, and by now I had been wondering what I had really learned: Which word was it? I have avoided using it because I have kept forgetting to look it up. I thought perhaps I was mistakenly adding the “i” into the correct word, verbage, but I see that I was correct in remembering that verbiage is the right word.
    Along those lines, since you mentioned “foliage,” what really annoys me is when people mispronounce (or misspell) it as “foilage.” Makes me shudder!

  5. To your question, do we need both ‘verbage’ and ‘verbiage’ I’d have to say ‘NO’. As if it were not enough to have different spellings for the same words in American and British forms we need different spellings for the same word in the American form.

    While writing, I am often perplexed to use the right spelling – color or colour, organise or organize. These are simpler examples but it would be better if there was a standard form of English that was acceptable in all written form. I am not biased at all about what spelling for ‘verbiage’ should be used. Rather, I would like to be told which one to use. Just show me the right one and I will keep at it.

    To address the other point, initially raised by Libby Lewis let me ask if the following usage is correct.

    ‘The food is adequate enough’.

    A classic example of redundant words, need I say more about using ‘too much verbiage’ in the same sentence?

  6. Verbage is used too, too often around the Nuclear industry referring to words, i.e. ‘add some verbage to that procedure’.

    Every time I hear it said, I cringe. Why can’t they simply say ‘add some more words to that’ or ‘elaborate more’?

  7. Have to agree with Bill Bowman’s comment here, my industry is also rife with use of the word ‘verbiage’ – typically anytime we write a legally binding document like a statement of work.

    ‘Don, send me the new verbiage around the escape clause we discussed.’

    And I think to myself each time I hear it – are they purposely asking me to overwrite this? If so, then why am I constantly being told my emails are ‘too wordy’?
    Then I think why am I writing all of these contracts? I am a manager but I feel more and more like a lawyer.

    Uggh …

    Come to think on it, the execs typically ask me to ‘operationalize’ and agreement right after a client signs off on new contract ‘verbiage’ … I don’t even think that’s a real word, or if it is it must have just been absorbed into the vernacular.

  8. Bill Bowman wrote, “Verbage is used too, too often around the Nuclear industry…”

    Surely he meant to say that VERBAGE is used too often around the NUCULAR industry.

    If I need to add a smil(e)y, then you need to add a sense of humo(u)r.

  9. I think a lot (hard thinker) and to me verbage or verbiage means more thought intelligently put into our message we’re trying to convey to others. Which is sometimes needed to show them we “THINK”. More than just basic or on the surface, more context and content.

  10. Signage, as I’ve encountered it in daily work, refers to the physical objects we call signs. These are mounted on walls, hung from ceilings, pasted on cabinets, painted on windows or cars…. To me, “signage” refers to the physical objects. In the past decade, we’ve begun to use the term “digital signage” to refer to signage that’s displayed on computer or television screens (or, really, any medium that can alter what it displays, usually via signals from some kind of computer).

    I wouldn’t call the road signs “signage,” but I would call them “signage” if I were referring to the group of road signs in the context of sign design, installation, or even simply talking about them in the context of the practice of using signs. Example: “I found the signage in Zurich was clear, well-designed, and consistently in a state of good repair.”

    “Signs,” on the other hand, is a word with many more literal and figurative meanings, such as signs from God, signs of a bad economy, signs of depression, signs of improvement, hand signs (as in International Sign Language), signs of life, signs of intelligence….

  11. I, for years have used VERBAGE, meaning ,,,verbal garbage. Or,
    when somebody says many words that result in no substance, but a lot of smoke anf mirrors. Thank you for the term VERBIAGE.
    However, I’ll continue to use VERBAGE when it is applicable.

  12. I have used the term, VERBAGE, as a contraction of verbal garbage.
    I refer to many words spoken or written, that offer no substance,
    as smoke and mirrors. Thank you for the correct term, VERBIAGE.

  13. Many words have “officially” changed over the years, even among locale. Think: color/colour. If a dictionary even acknowledges a common-use variation, it is one step from becoming a “real” word. As for redundancy, I judge writing in terms of effective communication, not in terms of strict propriety. If it gets the point across accurately, and it doesn’t draw attention to itself for the majority of the intended audience, it IS effective. Redundancy is only a problem if it changes or confuses the meaning of the sentence. “Too much verbiage” isn’t not redundant, but I wouldn’t call it reduntant, either. 😉

    Take-home point: if you have to ask if it’s redundant, fuhgetaboutit!

    English is a confusing language, with roots in no less than three languages. It’s a wonder that ANYBODY speaks proper English!

  14. My boss says “I’ll send you the verbiage” and “Be sure to use their verbiage.” It didn’t sound like the correct use, so I looked it up. Unfortunately, I would have subbed “wordage” – that is, until I looked up wordage and discovered it means “verbiage.” Oh, dear!

  15. Until I looked it up today to find the correct spelling, I always thought “verbiage” just meant “choice of words to use” That is how I have always heard it used and used it.

    I wanted to type, “I will put that text in as soon as the verbiage is decided on.” But in this example the “choice of words to use” would be to choose as few as possible while still descriptive. So I guess verbiage, according to the dictionary, would be the wrong thing to say.

    Why does verbiage need such a negative connotation?

  16. After living and working in several states across the US, I have heard the word “verbiage” used time and time again when referring to the wording of text. It’s never, however, been used with a negative connotation, so judging only by my own experience, I have to disagree that the first definition is the most commonly used. That said, I hate verbiage.

  17. I’m a tech writer who has written material for a number of very different clients, including engineering firms, restaurants, government agencies, and insurance companies. More and more clients use the words “verbiage” or “verbage” where the simple word “text” would do. Worse yet, they ask me to “wordsmith” instead of asking me to “edit text”. I quietly avoid correcting them, but use the words “text” and “edit” when I write or talk to them.

    I’m charmed by nerdy jargon and slang that gets absorbed into English, but I am substantially less tolerant of the arrogant and ignorant substitution of words by people who think these substitutions make them sound smarter.

  18. Yay, Anne! Everytime someone uses “verbiage” “utilize” etc. to say “text” or “use,” I sigh, and give mental hand-signage to whomever started this trend.

    Now, can someone tell people the difference between “loose” and “lose”?

  19. Maybe we can create a completely separate definition for “verbage” that has no relation to verbiage or garbage. For example, nouns like “antique” and “party” have been converted to verbs. Can we call that process “verbage”?

    The way “verbage” is currently used makes me nauseous. Oh, wait…

  20. Let’s just remove verbage and verbiage from common misuse. There is always a better way to say something than to use either of those words. The possible exception is if they are used as defined. Which brings me to signs. I agree that signs is a fine word and needs no new synonym. It does just fine as it is.

  21. I can’t help thinking of Saussure’s langue-parole distinction. Langue here is what our blogging authority has decreed (based upon dictionarial decree) and we, the commentors, describe the parole of these two related words, verbage and verbiage, i.e., the way we the people use them. I hate to admit it but there’s snobbery in this as well. I tend to judge those who use verbage as if it were a real word, or verbiage according to the second definition, as having poorly absorbed their high school vocabulary lessons. But my snobbery turns out to be misplaced. If we can say OED is the ultimate authority, then both verbage and verbiage def 2 are legitimate usages. So, enfin, langue cannot decide for us and parole seizes the day. I daresay it storms the Bastille.

  22. I’m in the same camp as James. While I currently work in IT, i used to work in retail, and signage and verbage came up a lot. I have always recognized verbage and verbiage as distinctly different words with different meanings. I took verbiage as exactly what OED defined it as, but was surprised to see that verbage was not considered an actual word. I suppose it’s probably a learned colloquialism amongst the many people that have used verbiage incorrectly over the years. That said, I’ve always understood verbage to mean the specific words chosen to convey a message and, in many instances, also their specific order or arrangement, generally done in order to remain unambiguous.

    So as an example, if someone was asked to choose the verbage for an upcoming sale, nuances can come into play when trying to specify how the sale works. I.E. there is a difference between ‘Buy One, Get One Half-off’ and ‘50% off when you buy 1’. The second seems to indicate you only need buy 1 of an item and it will be half-price. So, in the many places that I’ve seen ‘verbage’ used, it specifically references the crafting of a clear message with words and formatting.

  23. I’m a real estate attorney and agents always ask me to send them the “verbiage” to use for a contract addendum. It makes me crazy. Just ask me for the language to use, or the text, or almost any other alternative. Just not “verbiage.”

  24. By reading some of these posts, some people might consider me uneducated even though I have two college degrees. Until today, I had never seen the spelling: ‘verbiage’. I have always heard a word that would be pronounced without the ‘I’: ‘verbage’. Also, and perhaps it was colloquialism, but the only meaning I had heard it used as was as ‘words’, I.E.: ‘I’m going to try to send a hard copy to you also. But at least you have the verbage’. And, yes, that could be substituted with the word text, and I am not saying that what I wrote above was correct according to the dictionary; however, if you are only saying the reason to not use verbage is because you could use the words ‘word’ or ‘text’ and why have another word meaning the same thing then why don’t we pick either text or word to use instead of both? Also why do we have books filled with “words to use instead of . . . what you are using that means the same thing” . . . Food for Thought.

  25. I’ve worked in marketing and advertising as an art director and creative director. Much of that time has been spent working with copywriters who write “copy” for ads, brochures, websites and any other forms of marketing communications you can think of. Other common terms for “copy” include “text” or “wording”. Lately though, more and more clients insist on referring to “copy” as “verbiage” and it drives me nuts. I’m sure they’re probably using it to convey the second meaning, not the first, but I just can’t get used to it. Yesterday, I sat in a 2 hour meeting with a client who kept using “verbiage” and “verbage” interchangeably. I had to bite my tongue.

  26. If the “second definition” is due to common misuse of the word “verbiage”, then the question becomes, do we repel such bastardization of the language, or do we declare the language “alive” and celebrate these deviations. English was my worst subject in K-12, primarily because the English language is made arcane by its pedigree of appended violations. Does “sanction” offer me *permission* or *penalty”? And, because this perennial practice of linguistic misappropriation is responsible for my legacy of poor scholastic performance, I have no idea if I am waxing eloquent or making an ass of myself! 😉

  27. 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.

  28. This is a pretty saviage takedown of missing “i” words. It reminds me of an old adiage my father used to say: “Languiage rarely gets better with iage.”

    My fears of missing “i” words forever missing their i’s have been assuiaged 🙂

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