cir·​cum·​lo·​cu·​tion | \ ˌsər-kəm-lō-ˈkyü-shən How to pronounce circumlocution (audio) \

Definition of circumlocution

1 : the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea had no patience with diplomatic circumlocutions
2 : evasion in speech circumlocutions concerning what constitutes torture

Other Words from circumlocution

circumlocutory \ ˌsər-​kəm-​ˈlä-​kyə-​ˌtȯr-​ē How to pronounce circumlocution (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for circumlocution


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In The King's English, grammarian H. W. Fowler advised, "Prefer the single word to the circumlocution." Alas, that good advice was not followed by the framers of circumlocution. They actually used two terms in forming that word for unnecessarily verbose prose or speech. But their choices were apt; circumlocution derives from the Latin circum-, meaning "around," and locutio, meaning "speech"—so it literally means "roundabout speech." Since at least the early 16th century, English writers have used circumlocution with disdain, naming a thing to stop, or better yet, to avoid altogether. Charles Dickens even used it to satirize political runarounds in the 1857 novel Little Dorrit with the creation of the fictional Circumlocution Office, a government department that delayed the dissemination of information and just about everything else.

Examples of circumlocution in a Sentence

He was criticized for his use of circumlocution. I'm trying to avoid circumlocutions in my writing.
Recent Examples on the Web Powell’s statement yesterday (September 22) is the masterpiece of its type, building upon fifteen months of this playful circumlocution, downshifting into bureaucratic blandness. George Calhoun, Forbes, 23 Sep. 2021 But the national crisis in policing and the response to it isn’t a matter of arid elite debate or familiar political circumlocution and compromise anymore. David Roth, The New Republic, 11 June 2020 These circumlocutions are meant to emphasize the fact that Africans traded like chattel were not, in their essence, slaves but human beings. Lionel Shriver, Harper's magazine, 25 Nov. 2019 Although incredibly popular, with 60% approval ratings, Ahok was considered by many to be a divisive figure, by virtue both of his minority status and of his bluntness, which ran counter to Javanese traditions of deference and circumlocution. The Economist, 12 Apr. 2018 Mungiu, like many Romanian directors, has a sadistic streak for circumlocution. Jordan Hoffman,, 6 Apr. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'circumlocution.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of circumlocution

circa 1518, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for circumlocution

Middle English circumlocucyon, from Latin circumlocution-, circumlocutio, from circum- + locutio speech, from loqui to speak

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The first known use of circumlocution was circa 1518

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Cite this Entry

“Circumlocution.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Aug. 2022.

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Nglish: Translation of circumlocution for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about circumlocution


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