Posted: 16 Mar 2014 09:24 PM PDT
The noun locution comes from a Latin verb meaning “to speak.” As an English noun it means “a form of expression.” The prefixcircum- 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,
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 examples could be rewritten to avoid circumlocution:
Here, with suggested translations, are some prepositional phrases that often contribute to circumlocution:
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.