pe·​riph·​ra·​sis | \ pə-ˈri-frə-səs How to pronounce periphrasis (audio) \
plural periphrases\ pə-​ˈri-​frə-​ˌsēz How to pronounce periphrases (audio) \

Definition of periphrasis

1 : use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression
2 : an instance of periphrasis

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Did You Know?

It's easy enough to point out the origins of "periphrasis": the word was borrowed into English in the early 16th century via Latin from Greek periphrazein, which in turn comes from the prefix peri-, meaning "all around," and the verb "phrazein," "to point out." Two common descendants of "phrazein" in English are "phrase" and "paraphrase," the latter of which combines "phrazein" with the prefix para-, meaning "closely resembling." Another "phrazein" descendant is the less familiar word holophrasis, meaning "the expression of a complex of ideas in a single word or in a fixed phrase." (The prefix holo- can mean "completely.")

Examples of periphrasis in a Sentence

congressional hearings into the Watergate scandal were marked by an orgy of periphrasis, the expression “at this point in time” being a memorable example

First Known Use of periphrasis

1533, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for periphrasis

Latin, from Greek, from periphrazein to express periphrastically, from peri- + phrazein to point out

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Time Traveler for periphrasis

The first known use of periphrasis was in 1533

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More from Merriam-Webster on periphrasis

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for periphrasis Encyclopedia article about periphrasis

Comments on periphrasis

What made you want to look up periphrasis? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to take the place or position of

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