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", calling Macbeth the "Scottish Play" 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".

See also


  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.

External links

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