What is Circumlocution

What is Circumlocution 

Circumlocution is a rhetorical device where the writer uses exaggeratedly long and complex sentences with the intention of expressing a meaning that could have otherwise been conveyed through a shorter, much simpler sentence. In circumlocution, the writer presents his views in a very indirect and roundabout way. The term circumlocution is derived from Latin circum meaning ‘around’ and locutio (n-) meaning ‘speak’. Thus, this term literally means to talk around.

Circumlocution can be used to when one cannot choose the correct words to express something and when one wants to avoid offending someone. It is also used in law and politics. In literature, circumlocution is used to create regular meter, to soften and beautify a verse and to keep the readers in suspense. It is also very effective in confusing the readers as well as characters within the story. It is specially used when the narrator wants to be evasive or ambiguous.

The following sentence is an example of circumlocution. Here, the writer uses an exaggeratedly long sentence to say that it is dawn.

“Bright Tithonia had brought out her labouring chariot from the sky and Night and Sleep with empty horn were fleeing the wakeful reins of the pale goddess.”

Circumlocution can be created by using other literary devices such as euphemism, innuendo, etc.

Euphemism refers to a polite, indirect expression which replaces unpleasant words and phrases which are considered to be rude or impolite. For example, the expression ‘becoming a little thin on top’ refers to baldness. Innuendo is an indirect and subtle observation about something or someone, often derogatory in nature. In addition, the language used to create a circumlocution can be also vivid and full of imagery, just like in the above example.

Examples of Circumlocution  

Under the impression,” said Mr. Micawber, “that your peregrinations in this metropolis have not as yet been extensive, and that you might have some difficulty in penetrating the arcana of the Modern Babylon in the direction of the City Road—in short,” said Mr. Micawber, in another burst of confidence, “that you might lose yourself—I shall be happy to call this evening, and instal you in the knowledge of the nearest way….

–  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

What is Circumlocution

In the above example from Dickens’s David Copperfield, circumlocution has been used as a character trait of Wilkins Micawber, who always speaks in an indirect manner.

“There is undoubtedly a strong possibility, notwithstanding the vagaries of contingency and misfortune, that my son might have fallen—or might, we could say, have voluntarily jumped, in accordance with the ethical codes with which he has been brought up—for a play you have made with some success, although, as I am persuaded you would concede, very little originality.”

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

“Close by those meads, forever crowned with flowers,
Where Thames with pride surveys his rising towers,
There stands a structure of majestic frame,
Which for the neighb’ring Hampton takes its name.
Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea.

Not louder shrieks to pitying Heav’n are cast,
When husbands or when lap-dogs breathe their last,
Or when rich China vessels, fall’n from high,
In glitt’ring dust and painted fragments lie!”

– The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

 It is important to notice that circumlocution should always be used in moderation. If most of the book is made of long, roundabout sentence, there is a good chance that the readers will grow tired of this technique.

Image Courtesy:

By Artwork by Frank Reynolds (1876-1853) – From The Personal History of David Copperfield, pg. “intro”, Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1910., (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

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