Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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The use of more words than necessary to effectively convey meaning in speech or writing: verbosity. Adjective: wordy. Contrast with conciseness, directness, and clarity.

Wordiness, says Robert Hartwell Fiske, is "arguably the biggest obstacle to clear writing and speaking" (101 Wordy Phrases, 2005).

Examples and Observations

  • "'No one can resist me,' he had to admit. 'I am invulnerable, impregnable, insuperable, indefatigable, insurmountable.' He let each satisfying word roll smoothly off his tongue. The Ogre did have quite an impressive vocabulary, due mainly to having inadvertently swallowed a large dictionary while consuming the head librarian in one of the nearby towns."
    (Norton Juster, The Odious Ogre. Scholastic, 2010)
  • Mrs B: It's our cat. He doesn't do anything. He just sits out there on the lawn...
    Vet: Hm. I see. Well I think I may be able to help you. You see... (he goes over to armchair, puts on spectacles, sits, crosses legs and puts finger tips together)... your cat is suffering from what we vets haven't found a word for. His condition is typified by total physical inertia, absence of interest in its ambiance — what we vets call environment — failure to respond to the conventional external stimuli — a ball of string, a nice juicy mouse, a bird. To be blunt, your cat is in a rut. It's the old stockbroker syndrome, the suburban fin de siècle, ennui, angst, weltschmertz, call it what you will.
    Mrs B: Moping.
    Vet: In a way, in a way... hmm... moping, I must remember that.
    (Terry Jones and Graham Chapman in episode five of Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1969)
  • "Long sentences are not necessarily wordy, nor are short sentences always concise. A sentence is wordy if it can be tightened without loss of meaning."
    (Diana Hacker, The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002)


"Writers often repeat themselves unnecessarily. Afraid, perhaps, that they won't be heard the first time, they insist that a teacup is small in size or yellow in color; that married people should cooperate together; that a fact is not just a fact but a true fact. Such redundancies may seem at first to add emphasis. In reality they do just the opposite, for they divide the reader's attention."
(Diana Hacker, The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002)

How to Eliminate Wordiness

  • ​​"A good way to find out which words are essential in a sentence is to underline [oritalicize] the key words. Look carefully at the remaining words so you can determine which are unnecessary, and then eliminate wordiness by deleting them.
    It seems to me that it does not make sense to allow any bail to be granted to anyone who has ever been convicted of a violent crime.
    The underlining shows you immediately that none of the words in the long introductory phrase are essential. The following revision includes just the words necessary to convey the key ideas.
    Bail should not be granted to anyone who has ever been convicted of a violent crime. Whenever possible, delete nonessential words--deadwood, utility words, and circumlocution — from your writing."
    (Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, The Wadsworth Handbook, 8th ed. Thomson Wadsworth, 2008)

The Two Meanings of Wordiness

"Wordiness has two meanings for the writer. You are wordy when you are redundant, such as when you write, 'Last May during the spring,' or 'little kittens' or 'very unique.'

"Wordiness for the writer also means using long words when there are good short ones available, using uncommon words when familiar ones are handy, using words that look like the work of a Scrabble champion, not a writer."
(Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing. Penguin, 1985)

George Carlin: "In Your Own Words"

"One more of these: 'In your own words.' You know you hear that a lot in a courtroom or a classroom. They'll say, 'Tell us in your own words.' Do you have your own words? Hey, I'm using the ones everyone else has been using! Next time they tell you to say something in your own words, say 'Niq fluk bwarney quando floo!'"
(George Carlin, "Back in Town." HBO, 1996)

Editing Exercises

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Wordiness." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/wordiness-definition-1692507. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Wordiness. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/wordiness-definition-1692507 Nordquist, Richard. "Wordiness." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/wordiness-definition-1692507 (accessed March 22, 2023).