Circumlocution (also called periphrasis, circumduction, circumvolution, periphrase, or ambage[1]) is an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech. In its most basic form, circumlocution is using many words (such as "a tool used for cutting things such as paper and hair") to describe something simple ("scissors"). In this sense, the vast majority of definitions found in dictionaries are circumlocutory.

Circumlocution is often used by aphasics and people learning a new language, where in the absence of a word (such as "abuelo" [grandfather]) the subject can simply be described ("el padre de su padre" [the father of one's father]). It is also used frequently in Basic English, a constructed dialect of non-regional English.

Circumlocution has numerous other uses, referred to by other terms.



Amphilogism (also called amphilogy) is a form of circumlocutory speech used to avoid telling something that might otherwise harm you. For example, a man who for ulterior reasons doesn't want to divulge his relationship status might use amphilogistic language (i.e., the "pronoun game") to talk about his significant other without making concessions as to his relationship. For example, instead of saying "She made dinner for me last night", an amphilogistic statement would be "Dinner was already made for me last night".


Cledonism is the use of circumlocution to avoid saying unlucky words. For example, calling the devil "Old Nick",[2] calling Macbeth the "Scottish Play" or saying "baker's dozen" instead of thirteen. The Roman god Orcus was referred to as "Pluto", "the rich one", in Latin.[citation needed]


Equivocation is the use of circumlocution to deceive others without blatantly lying. For example, if a mother asks her child to clean a throw rug, and the child replies that he will "hang the rug and beat it" instead of saying he will "clean it", he could mean that he will forget about the rug (hang it) and quickly leave (beat it).


Euphemism is the use of circumlocution to avoid saying offensive words. Euphemism, however, is only sometimes circumlocutory. For example, "Holy mother of Jesus!" is a circumlocution of "Mary!", but "heck", while still euphemistic, is not a circumlocution of "hell".

See also


  1. ^ "Ambage" in Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and
  2. ^ "Speak of the devil, and he will appear" is the proverb.
  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 681. ISBN 0-674-36250-0. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Circumlocution — Cir cum*lo*cu tion, n. [L. circumlocutio, fr. circumloqui, locutus, to make use of circumlocution; circum + loqui to speak. See {Loquacious}.] The use of many words to express an idea that might be expressed by few; indirect or roundabout… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Circumlocution — (v. lat.), Umschreibung mit Worten …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • circumlocution — index indirection (indirect action) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • circumlocution — (n.) c.1400, from L. circumlocutionem (nom. circumlocutio; a loan translation of Gk. periphrasis) speaking around (the topic), from circum around (see CIRCUM (Cf. circum )) + locutionem (nom. locutio) a speaking, from stem of loqui to speak (see …   Etymology dictionary

  • circumlocution — periphrasis, pleonasm, *verbiage, redundancy, tautology Analogous words: prolixity, diffuseness, wordiness, verbosity (see corresponding adjectives at WORDY) Contrasted words: compactness (see corresponding adjectives at CLOSE): conciseness or… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • circumlocution — [n] indirect speech beating around the bush*, circumambages, diffuseness, discursiveness, euphemism, gassiness, indirectness, periphrase, periphrasis, pleonasm, prolixity, roundabout, tautology, verbal evasion, verbality, verbiage, wordiness;… …   New thesaurus

  • circumlocution — ► NOUN ▪ the use of many words where fewer would do. DERIVATIVES circumlocutory adjective. ORIGIN Latin, from circum around + loqui speak …   English terms dictionary

  • circumlocution — [sʉr΄kəmlō kyo͞o′shən] n. [ME circumlocucioun < L circumlocutio: see CIRCUM & LOCUTION] 1. a roundabout, indirect, or lengthy way of expressing something; periphrasis 2. an instance of this circumlocutory [sʉr΄kəmläk′yə tôr΄ē] adj …   English World dictionary

  • circumlocution — [[t]sɜ͟ː(r)kəmloʊkju͟ːʃ(ə)n[/t]] circumlocutions N VAR A circumlocution is a way of saying or writing something using more words than are necessary instead of being clear and direct. [FORMAL] It was always when you most wanted a direct answer… …   English dictionary

  • circumlocution — UK [ˌsɜː(r)kəmləˈkjuːʃ(ə)n] / US [ˌsɜrkəmləˈkjuʃ(ə)n] noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms circumlocution : singular circumlocution plural circumlocutions formal the use of too many words to say something, especially in order to avoid saying… …   English dictionary

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