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 The Diary of a Word Nerd

  • Grace Kidder

Circumlocution: The Reason We Have "TL;DR"

Blah, blah, blah...

We all have that one friend who uses way too many words to get their point across. This is an example of circumlocution—"the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea." The other definition of circumlocution refers to speaking around an issue in a wordy manner to avoid the actual topic. This meaning of the word is often tied to politicians for some strange reason (read that sarcastically; we all know why).

Something fun I learned while reading about this term was that Charles Dickens created a fictional "Circumlocution Office" in one of his novels, satirizing the government bureaucracy of the time. In the book, the department purposely delayed spreading information and making decisions, which quite honestly still sounds like government today (The Circumlocution Office; Merriam-Webster).

"It being one of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, on any account whatever, to give a straightforward answer."

-Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Book 1, Chapter 10.

Writing and Circumlocution

The word "circumlocution" makes perfect sense when you look at its origins. According to Merriam-Webster, the word comes from the Latin terms circum-, meaning "around," and locutio, meaning "speech." So it quite literally means "roundabout speech." Generally, it is thought of as something writers should avoid, because it makes it harder for readers to understand the text.

Helping writers eliminate wordiness from their text is a common job for editors. When writing, we often just let ideas flow and don't consider if what we're saying makes sense. I say we because I do this too! I often write way too much and then go back to get rid of the less important stuff. It's not until we review our work (or have someone else do it for us) that we can look for ways to say more with less. As Thomas Jefferson said,

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."

Do you need help simplifying your writing? Contact Kidder Writing Services to make sure your message is clear and concise!


The Circumlocution Office. n.d. "What Is the Circumlocution Office?" Accessed November 21, 2020. http://thecircumlocutionoffice.com/about/circumlocution-office/.

Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “circumlocution,” accessed November 20, 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/circumlocution.

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