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From Latin circumlocūtiō (the act of speaking around; circumlocution, periphrasis). Surface analysis circum- (around) +‎ locution (talk), thus "getting around (a problem) in speaking or writing". Probably a calque of Ancient Greek περίφρασις (períphrasis, periphrasis).



circumlocution (countable and uncountable, plural circumlocutions)

  1. (uncountable) A roundabout or indirect way of speaking; thus:
    1. (uncountable) Unnecessary use of extra words to express an idea, such as a pleonastic phrase (sometimes driven by an attempt at emphatic clarity) or a wordy substitution (the latter driven by euphemistic intent, pedagogic intent, or sometimes loquaciousness alone).
    2. (uncountable) Necessary use of a phrase to circumvent either a vocabulary fault (of speaker or listener) or a lexical gap, either monolingually or in translation.
      • 1997, Bittner, Hansjörg, The Metrical Structure of Free Verse (PhD Thesis)[1]:
        It may seem quite straightforward to render line 15 metrically regular by means of a grammatical trick: "the style as bright as soul". However, the stylistic feature of the adjectival compound does not occur in isolation but is employed again in the following line, "dem Staubfaden himmelswüst", where a grammatical circumlocution in translation would be metrically disadvantageous. Both compounds, "seelenhell" as well as "himmelswüst", should therefore be translated as compounds. When Michael Hamburger remarks that German "lends itself to the formation of compound words in a way that English does not" (in Celan 1988: 24), he probably refers to nouns such as "Türspalt" or "Algenteilchen".
      • 2010, Giggs, Rebecca A., The Rise of the Edge: New Thresholds of the Ecological Uncanny, and Inside Albatrosses (Fictions for Strange Weather) (PhD Thesis)[2]:
        Linguistic horror vacui again, and lacuna: the blank part of a manuscript where the ink runs off the papyrus, and lexically the word missing from one language that must be bridged with circumlocution in translation.
  2. (countable) An instance of such usage; a roundabout expression, whether an inadvisable one or a necessary one.


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