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Verbosity

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Verbosity

Verbosity is speech or writing which is deemed to use an excess of words. The opposite of verbosity is succinctness, which can be found in plain language (including Plain English), and laconism.

Some teachers, including the author of The Elements of Style, warn writers not to be verbose. Similarly, some authors, including Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, use a succinct style and avoid verbosity.

Synonyms for verbosity include wordiness, verbiage, prolixity, grandiloquence, garrulousness, expatiation, and logorrhea. Corresponding adjectival forms are verbose, wordy, prolix, grandiloquent, garrulous, and logorrheic. Slang terms such as verbal diarrhea also refer to the practice.

Examples of verbosity are common in political speech, academic prose, and other genres.

Scientific jargon

The word logorrhoea is often used pejoratively to describe prose which is highly abstract, and, consequently, contains little concrete language. Since abstract writing is hard to visualize, it often seems as though it makes no sense, and that all the words are excessive. Writers in academic fields which concern themselves mostly with the abstract, such as philosophy, especially postmodernism, often fail to include extensive concrete examples of their ideas; so an examination of their work might lead one to believe that it is all nonsense.

In an attempt to prove this lack of academic rigor, physics professor Alan Sokal wrote a nonsensical essay, and had it published in a respected journal (Social Text) as a practical joke. The journal kept defending it as a genuine article even after its own author rebuked the editors publicly in a subsequent article in another academic journal. The episode has come to be known as the Sokal Affair.[1]

The term is also sometimes less precisely applied to unnecessarily (and often redundantly) wordy speech in general; this is more usually referred to as prolixity. Some people defend the use of additional words which sometimes look unnecessary as idiomatic, a matter of artistic preference, or helpful in explaining complex ideas or messages.

Reference performers

Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, was noted as a grandiloquent speaker, with a florid style unusual even in his era. A Democrat leader, William Gibbs McAdoo, described Harding's speeches as "an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea."[2]

Senator Robert C. Byrd (Democrat, of West Virginia) lost his position as Majority Leader in 1989 because his colleagues felt his grandiloquent speeches, often employing obscure allusions to ancient Rome and Greece, were not an asset to the party base.[3] This trait has been exemplified by oratory quoting Shakespeare in reference to the stock market.[4]

The Michigan Law Review published a 229-page parody of postmodern writing titled "Pomobabble: Postmodern Newspeak and Constitutional 'Meaning' for the Uninitiated". The article consists of extremely complicated and highly context sensitive self-referencing narratives about the article itself. The text is peppered with an absolutely excessive number of parenthetical citations and asides, which is supposed to mock the cluttered postmodernist style of writing.[5]

In The King's English, Fowler gives as one of his examples this passage from The Times: "The Emperor received yesterday and to-day General Baron von Beck.... It may therefore be assumed with some confidence that the terms of a feasible solution are maturing themselves in His Majesty's mind and may form the basis of further negotiations with Hungarian party leaders when the Monarch goes again to Budapest."[6] Fowler objected to this passage because The Emperor, His Majesty, and the Monarch all refer to the same person: "the effect", he pointed out in Modern English Usage, "is to set readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude that there is none."

Style advice

William Strunk, an American professor of English, wrote about the balance between being clear and being concise in 1918. He advised "Use the active voice: Put statements in positive form; Omit needless words."[7]

In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) Henry Watson Fowler says, "It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly, & still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to the allurements of elegant variation," Fowler's term for the over-use of synonyms.[8] Contrary to Fowler's criticism of multiple words to name the same thing in English prose, in some other languages, including French, it might be thought to be a good writing style.[9][10]

Mark Twain (1835–1910) wrote "generally, the fewer the words that fully communicate or evoke the intended ideas and feelings, the more effective the communication."[11]

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), the 1954 Nobel Prizewinner for literature, defended his concise style against a charge by William Faulkner that he "had never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary."[12] Hemingway responded by saying, "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use."[13]

An inquiry into the 2005 London bombings found that verbosity can be dangerous if used by emergency services. It can lead to delay that could cost lives.[14]

A 2005 study from the psychology department of Princeton University found that using long and obscure words does not make people seem more intelligent. Dr. Daniel M. Oppenheimer did research which showed that students rated short, concise texts as being written by the most intelligent authors. But those who used long words or complex font types were seen as less intelligent.[15]

In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, one of Polonius's many sententious maxims reads
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

However, despite this line becoming proverbial over time, Shakespeare's audiences were not necessarily inclined to read Polonius as someone who is perfectly wise; his sentences, like that of much early modern drama, can easily be seen as part of a comic trope.

Politics and the English Language" (1946). He took verse (9:11) from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible

"I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

and rewrote it as

"Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account."

Orwell’s deliberate usage of unnecessary words only serves to further complicate the statement. For instance, the words "objective", "contemporary" and "invariably" could be cut, with virtually no loss of meaning. What both the Bible and Orwell were trying to say could be paraphrased (albeit obtusely) in three words: "Success is stochastic".

It was especially risky to use scientific jargon in front of quantum physicist sociologist brought a paper which he had written beforehand to the committee where Feynman served, asking everyone to read it. Feynman found it completely incomprehensible, and feared that he was out of his depth — until he decided to pick a sentence at random and parse it until he understood. Feynman discovered that

The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels

stood for "People read". The rest of the paper soon made sense in the same fashion, e.g. "The medical community indicates that a program of downsizing average total daily caloric intake is maximally efficacious in the field of proactive weight-reduction methodologies" would encode the "Doctors say that the best way to lose weight is to eat less".

Other labels

The word verbosity comes from Latin verbosus, "word". There are many other English words that also refer to the use of excessive words.

Prolixity comes from Latin prolixus, "extended". Prolixity can also be used to refer to the length of a monologue or speech, especially a formal address such as a lawyer's oral argument.[16]

Grandiloquence is complex speech or writing judged to be pompous or bombastic diction. It is a combination of the Latin words grandis ("great") and loqui ("to speak").[17]

Logorrhea or logorrhoea (from Greek λογόρροια, logorrhoia, "word-flux") is an excessive flow of words. It is often used pejoratively to describe prose that is hard to understand because it is needlessly complicated or uses excessive jargon. The term is also sometimes applied to unnecessarily wordy speech in general.

Sesquipedalianism is a linguistic style that involves the use of long words. Roman poet Horace coined the phrase sesquipedalia verba in his Ars Poetica.[18] It is a compound of sesqui, "one and a half", and pes, "foot", a reference to meter. The earliest recorded usage in English of sesquipedalian is in 1656, and of sesquipedalianism, 1863.[19]

Garrulous comes from Latin garrulus, "talkative", a form of the verb garrīre, "to chatter". The adjective may describe a person who is excessively talkative, especially about trivial matters, or a speech that is excessively wordy or diffuse[20]

The noun expatiation and the verb expatiate come from Latin expatiātus, past participle from spatiārī, "to wander". They refer to enlarging a discourse, text, or description.[21]

See also

References

  1. ^ The Sokal Affair
  2. ^ "Warren G. Harding". The White House. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  3. ^ "At 87, Byrd Faces Re-election Battle of His Career". 2005-05-22. Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  4. ^ "Byrd speech from LOC". Thomas.loc.gov. 2001-03-20. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  5. ^ Arrow, Dennis W. (December 1997). "Pomobabble: Postmodern Newspeak and Constitutional "Meaning" for the Uninitiated". Michigan Law Review 96 (3): 461–690.  
  6. ^ Fowler, Henry Watson; Fowler, Francis George (1908). The King's English. Clarendon Press. 
  7. ^ Strunk, William (1918). The Elements of Style. Paris: Feedbooks. 
  8. ^ Fowler, Henry Watson (1994) [1926]. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Wordsworth Editions.  
  9. ^ Paterson, Ann (2006). "Painting with words". In Eugenia Loffredo, Manuela Perteghella. Translation And Creativity: Perspectives on Creative Writing And Translation Studies.  
  10. ^ Fuller, Frederick (1984). The Translator's Handbook: (with special reference to conference translation from French and Spanish).  
  11. ^ "Reference for Prolixity". Search.com. 
  12. ^ Rovit, Earl; Waldhorn, Arthur (2006). Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. Continuum. p. 162.  
  13. ^ Shapiro, Fred R. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 354.  
  14. ^ "7/7 inquests: emergency services should use plain English". Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  15. ^ Oppenheimer, Daniel M. (2005). "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly" (PDF). Applied Cognitive Psychology 20: 139–15.  
  16. ^  
  17. ^ "Dictionary.com - Grandiloquence". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  18. ^ "Ars Poetica, l.97".  
  19. ^ Simpson, J. A.; Weiner, E. S. C. (1989). The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition).  
  20. ^ "Dictionary.com - Garrulous". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  21. ^ "Dictionary.com - expatiation". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
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