Verbiage

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A man telling a speech in a conference room
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Definition

Verbiage is the use of more words than necessary to effectively convey meaning in speech or writing: wordiness. Contrast with conciseness.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines verbiage as "[s]uperfluous abundance of words, tedious prose without much meaning, excessive wordiness, verbosity."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Etymology
From the Old French, "to chatter"
 

Examples and Observations

  • "What I am afraid of is: verbiage."
    (Joseph Conrad, letter to Hugh Walpole, December 2, 1902)
     
  • "'It is a midden and a criminal haunt and packed to the gills each split-up low deceiving house and alley with footpads and coiners and runners of poor women, with uncertificated pox-doctors and cat-gut spinners, with tripe-merchants and rumour-mongers and rabbit-breeders and slaughterers of the peace of the Lord. Why must your brother lodge there, Claffey? Could he not come here to us at Cockspur Street?'

    "'He may do that yet,' Claffey said.

    "'As for the man you call Slig--does he not keep that infamous cellar where we lodged when we were freshly arrived?'

    "'By the dripping blood of Christ!' Vance said. 'I am sick of your verbiage. Slig is a sworn brother of mine. Slig gave you straw and a shelter for fourpence. Infamous cellar? It was a usual kind of cellar. I tell you, O'Brien--it was good, of its kind.'

    "'Sick of my verbiage?' the Giant said. 'Sick of my stories, also?'

    "'I leave them to the brutes that want soothing."
    (Hilary Mantel, The Giant, O'Brien. Henry Holt, 1998)
  • "Excess" Verbiage
    - "Don't bore your audience with excess verbiage: be succinct."
    (Sharon Weiner-Green and Ira K. Wolf, How to Prepare for the GRE, 16th ed. Barron's Educational Series, 2005)

    - "Using excess with verbiage is redundant. Verbiage by itself means 'wordiness' or 'an excess of words.' Thus, you could say that the phrase excess verbiage is verbiage."
    (Adrienne Robins, The Analytical Writer: A College Rhetoric, 2nd ed. Collegiate Press, 1996)


    - "Part of the complexity of the problem with verbosity, wordiness and excess verbiage comes from the not uncommon tendency for individual people to use too many extra unnecessary words that are definitely not needed to make the actual clarity of the specific communication crystal clear.

    "Let's rewrite that sentence, cutting out the verbiage: 'Verbosity is the use of more words than necessary for clear communication.' We've gone from 45 words to 12."
    (Timothy R. V. Foster, Better Business Writing. Kogan Page, 2002)
  • Euphemisms and Verbiage
    "Euphemisms are not, as many young people think, useless verbiage for that which can and should be said bluntly; they are like secret agents on a delicate mission, they must airily pass by a stinking mess with barely so much as a nod of the head. Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne."
    (Quentin Crisp, Manners from Heaven, 1984)
  • Oratorical Verbiage
    "[A] characteristic ingredient in all epideictic oratory and literature [is] the opportunity it affords the rhetor for self-display. . . . But this same opportunity for self-display runs the risk of deliquescing into crass showmanship, false posing, hollow oracularity, empty verbiage, 'mere rhetoric'--as it does in the Roman period known as the Second Sophistic, and does again in [Robert] Frost's weakest poems ('cracker barrel' wisdom, clever trivia; to some high moderns the ordure of the ordinary). This remains a standing temptation to any epideictic rhetor and marks an extreme distance from epideictic's original concern with the health of the civic polity."
    (Walter Jost, "Epiphany and Epideictic: The Low Modernist Lyric in Robert Frost." A Companion to Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism, ed. by Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. Blackwell, 2004)
  • The Lighter Side of Verbiage
    Stubb: Took you long enough, you dithering imbecile! We've been waiting in that swamp for so long, I'll be pulling leeches off me nether parts for ages!
    Jack Sparrow: Ah Stubb, your verbiage always conjures up such a lovely image.
    (Stephen Stanton and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow, 2006)

 

Pronunciation: VUR-bee-ij

Alternate Spellings: verbage (generally regarded as an error)