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Wiktionary: verbose

Verbosity (also called wordiness, prolixity and garrulousness) in language refers to speech or writing which is deemed to use an excess of words. Adjectival forms are verbose, wordy, prolix and garrulous.

HistoryEdit

File:Julius Caesar Coustou Louvre.png

The balance between being clear and being concise is probably as old as writing itself. William Strunk[1] wrote about it in 1918. He advised "Use the active voice: Put statements in positive form; Omit needless words."[2]

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."[3]

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."[4] 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."[5]

Blaise Pascal wrote in 1657, "I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter."[6]

Julius Caesar, Roman emperor (100 BC – 44 BC) spoke concisely of one of his military successes: "Veni, Vidi, Vici", that is, "I came, I saw, I conquered."[7]

ProlixityEdit

Prolixity, from Latin prolixus, "extended" can take many forms in writing.

She came over near me and smiled with her mouth and she had little sharp predatory teeth. ... He walked slowly across the floor towards us and the girl jerked away from me ...
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

This could be seen either an effective stylistic device (eg expressing excitement or suspense), or as unnecessary bloating of language. The decision often rests with the reader.

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.[8]

GrandiloquenceEdit

Grandiloquence is complex speech or writing judged to be pompous or bombastic diction. [9] It is a combination of the Latin words grandis ("great") and loqui ("to speak").[10] It is often used by people in elevated political positions.

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:

"America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration[11]; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality..."[12][13][14]

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."[15]

Senator Robert C. Byrd ( 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.[16] This trait has been exemplified by oratory quoting Shakespeare in reference to the stock market.[17]

LogorrheaEdit

In linguistics and editing, logorrhea or logorrhoea (from Greek λογόρροια, logorrhoia, "word-flux") is an excessive flow of words. It 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, hence the pejorative epithet "pomobabble" (a portmanteau of postmodernist babble).

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.[18]

The widespread expectation that scholarly works in these fields will look at first glance like nonsense is the source of humor that pokes fun at these fields by comparing general nonsense with real academic writing. Several computer programs have been made that can generate texts resembling the styles of these fields but which are actually nonsensical. Some examples include: * SCIgen (which randomly generates fake research papers), "Mark V. Shaney" (which uses a Markov chain method to generate nonsense based on another text), Dissociated Press (which transforms any text into potentially humorous garbage), the Postmodernism Generator (which writes meaningless but superficially convincing essays in pomobabble), and the Automatic Complaint-Letter Generator (which creates realistic but tumid rants).

Logorrhea can also be used as a form of euphemism and obfuscation, to disguise unpleasant facts and ideas and mislead others about them.

The term is also sometimes less precisely applied to unnecessarily 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.

Examples of logorrhea Edit

In his essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946), the English writer George Orwell wrote about logorrhea in politics. He took the following 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."

He rewrote it like this:

"Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel 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 abstrusely) in three words: "Success is stochastic" or in four: "Fortune favors the bold" (obtusely) using alliteration.

The physicist and storyteller Richard Feynman describes a time when he took part in a conference discussing "the ethics of equality". Feynman was at first apprehensive, having read none of the books which the conference organizers had recommended. A 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 one sentence at random and parse it until he understood. The sentence he chose (to the best of his recollection) was:

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

Feynman "translated" the sentence and discovered it meant "People read". The rest of the paper soon made sense in the same fashion.

Further examples are easy to find or create:

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.
(I.e., "Doctors say that the best way to lose weight is to eat less".)

The benefits of being concise Edit

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.[19]

Some authors may feel that using long and obscure words may make them seem more intelligent. A recent study from the psychology department of Princeton University found that this was not the case. Dr. Daniel M. Oppenheimer did research which showed that students rated those with short, concise text, as being texts written by the most intelligent authors. But those who used long words or complex font types were seen as less intelligent.[20]

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief. –William Shakespeare, Hamlet[21]

Many common expressions can be made more concise. For example, 'near' instead of 'adjacent to', and 'to' instead of 'in order to'.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. The Elements of Style: A Style Guide for Writers by William Strunk 1918
  2. http://www.bartleby.com/141/
  3. http://www.search.com/reference/Prolixity
  4. Rovit, Earl (2006). Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time, Continuum International Publishing Group. URL accessed 28 February 2011.
  5. (2006) The Yale book of quotations, Yale University Press. URL accessed 28 February 2011.
  6. http://www.samueljohnson.com/apocryph.html#25
  7. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Julius_Caesar
  8. Percy, Sholto; Reuben Percy (1826). The Percy Anecdotes, London: T. Boys.
  9. Dictionary.com - Grandiloquence
  10. Grandiloquence - etymology
  11. http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/24953.html
  12. http://www.juntosociety.com/uspresidents/wghardng.html
  13. http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc1601/article_1353.shtml
  14. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Warren_G._Harding
  15. {http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/warrenharding
  16. At 87, Byrd Faces Re-election Battle of His Career
  17. Byrd speech from LOC
  18. The Sokal Affair
  19. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8374581/77-inquests-emergency-services-should-use-plain-English.html 7/7 inquests: emergency services should use plain English: the Telegraph, retrieved 11 March 2011
  20. {{{author}}}, Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly, [[{{{publisher}}}|{{{publisher}}}]], 2005. , Applied Cognitive Psychology.
  21. Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief. –William Shakespeare, Hamlet


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