pe·​riph·​ra·​sis pə-ˈri-frə-səs How to pronounce periphrasis (audio)
plural periphrases pə-ˈri-frə-ˌsēz How to pronounce periphrasis (audio)
: use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression
: an instance of periphrasis

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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

Word History


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

First Known Use

1533, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of periphrasis was in 1533


Dictionary Entries Near periphrasis

Cite this Entry

“Periphrasis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

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