AskDefine | Define circumlocution

Dictionary Definition



1 a style that involves indirect ways of expressing things [syn: periphrasis, ambage]
2 an indirect way of expressing something [syn: indirect expression]

User Contributed Dictionary




cir·cum·lo·cu·tion /ˌsɜrkəmloʊˈkyuʃən/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[sur-kuhm-loh-kyoo-shuhn] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –noun


  1. a roundabout or indirect way of speaking; the use of more words than necessary to express an idea.
  2. a roundabout expression.

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Related terms

Extensive Definition

Circumlocution (also called periphrasis, circumduction, circumvolution, periphrase, or ambage) is an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech. In its most basic form, circumlocution is using many words (such as "a tool used for cutting things such as paper and hair") to describe something simple ("scissors"). In this sense, the vast majority of definitions found in dictionaries are circumlocutory.
Circumlocution is often used by aphasics and people learning a new language, where in the absence of a word (such as "abuelo" [grandfather]) the subject can simply be described ("el padre de su padre" [the father of one's father]). It is also used frequently in Basic English, a constructed dialect of non-regional English.
Circumlocution has numerous other uses, under whose circumstances other terms are used.


Amphilogism (also called amphilogy) is a form a circumlocutory speech used to avoid telling something that might otherwise harm you. For example, a gay employee might use amphilogistic language (i.e., the "pronoun game") to talk about his partner without outing himself. For example, instead of saying "He made dinner for me last night", an amphilogistic statement would be "Dinner was already made for me last night".


Cledonism is the use of circumlocution to avoid saying unlucky words. For example, calling the devil "Old Nick" or saying "baker's dozen" instead of thirteen. The Roman god Orcus was referred to as "Pluto", "the rich one", in Latin.


Equivocation is the use of circumlocution to deceive others without blatantly lying. For example, if a mother asks her child to clean a throw rug, and the child replies that he will "hang the rug and beat it" instead of saying he will "clean it", he could mean that he will forget about the rug (hang it) and quickly leave (beat it).


Euphemism is the use of circumlocution to avoid saying offensive words. Euphemism, however, is only sometimes circumlocutory. For example, "Holy mother of Jesus!" is a circumlocution of "Mary!", but "heck", while still euphemistic, is not a circumlocution of "hell".


  • Greek Grammar
circumlocution in Catalan: Perífrasi
circumlocution in German: Periphrase
circumlocution in Spanish: Perífrasis
circumlocution in Esperanto: Perifrazo
circumlocution in French: Périphrase
circumlocution in Galician: Perífrase
circumlocution in Italian: Perifrasi
circumlocution in Dutch: Perifrase
circumlocution in Japanese: 迂言法
circumlocution in Norwegian: Perifrase
circumlocution in Polish: Peryfraza
circumlocution in Portuguese: Perífrase
circumlocution in Russian: Перифраз
circumlocution in Ukrainian: Перифраз

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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