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If someone provides too many details on something, basically making it more difficult to extract the actual information asked for, what is a good expression to describe this? Is superfluous adequate or too harsh? Would it make a difference whether the too-much-information was on purpose or inadvertently?

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What is the context of your description? (e.g. is it for a referee report in an academic setting, is it an informal complaint to your friend, etc.) @TrevorD: I am used to seeing the idiom with "forest" instead of "wood". I guess this is American vs. British for you. –  Sam Lisi Jun 4 '13 at 11:44
@SamLisi The context is a technical report which randomly scatters the relevant implementation details in a forest of citations of guidelines which actually are superseded by another guideline previously agreed upon. Something like both sides know the report is supposed to be about squares and yet the report first introduces basic geometry, then mentions the square's side length and suddenly discusses the existence of circles before discussing the square's colour. –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 4 '13 at 12:24
@TrevorD Indead, though more precisely I'm searching for needles in a bunch of haystacks –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 4 '13 at 12:28
@TobiasKienzler Indeed +1. Thanks for the added info. Personally, I wouldn't use "superfluous". I'd suggest something like too much irrelevant and incorrect detail obscuring the key issues. –  TrevorD Jun 4 '13 at 12:41
In Internet slang, just tmi is sufficient. That's a good clue that it's an idiom in its own right. –  Matt Jun 11 '13 at 4:08
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If someone 'provides too many details on something actually making it difficult to get the needed information out' a word that could be used is 'verbose'. This is an adjective which means too wordy or using too many words as in a write-up or a speaker addressing an audience.

Please see my comments below first.

My second offering: circumlocution (n.) - the use of unnecessary wordy and indirect language. The adjective is circumlocutory. An antonym of a circumlocutory expression would be a forthright expression.

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Hm, isn't being verbose about attempting to be helpful by providing information basically considered well-known? In my case the additional "information" is not only too much but even misleading –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 10 '13 at 8:31
So you're saying "verbose" already includes a "too" and saying "too verbose" would be pleonastic? –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 11 '13 at 7:08
On the other hand, "too verbose" might be adequate to convey the message :-7 Wait a second - "convoluted (and verbose)" is probably the best choice, thanks! –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 11 '13 at 12:02
@Tobias Kienzler Should we tidy these comments up? –  Charlie Brown Jun 22 '13 at 8:24
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You could say information overload. That expression has found its way into some dictionaries. One of them (Collins) defines it as:

information overload (n.) the situation when someone has so much information that they are unable to deal with it

Another (CDO) says:

information overload (n.) a situation in which you receive too much information at one time and cannot think about it in a clear way

The phrase seems to have gained traction since the 1970s, and the phenomenon is discussed in some textbooks as well. Here's just one quote out of many:

Thus, the danger of “information overload” is real; if any user were to receive all, or even a significant fraction, of the total amount of data contained in the system, he would be hopelessly swamped. (from Strategic Appraisal: The Changing Role of Information in Warfare, Rand Corporation, 1999)

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+1, though in this case it'd even better be called misinformation overload, since the additional "information" is not only irrelevant but misleading –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 10 '13 at 8:30
I suppose, although information overload is a relatively standard term, and misinformation overload is, well, just not used all that much. –  J.R. Jun 12 '13 at 21:23
Indeed :-7 It's interesting how close information overload and too much information are - the singularity is nigh! –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 13 '13 at 4:55
@Tobias: That Ngram is uncanny. I'd even postulate that the two terms grew in prominence as the problem became more widespread (due to the rise in technologies). –  J.R. Jun 13 '13 at 9:15
Oh dear, adding dystopia darkens the future - were I to wear tin foil hats I'd imply a correlation here... –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 13 '13 at 10:18
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Of the Wiktionary synonyms for superfluous (excessive, extraneous, extra, pleonastic, supernumerary, surplus, unnecessary, extravagant), extraneous actually sounds best, since it means both "not essential" and "not belonging to". But please note I'm no native speaker, so the choice may be sub-optimal.

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In case the "too much information" were actually "too many words" pleonastic (basically meaning redundantly redundant repetition of repeated repetitions...) might be a good fit. –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 4 '13 at 10:23
"pleonastic" is a specific type of "tautology" and definitely does not mean "too many words" - that would be closer to "circumlocutious". This is an example of a pleonasm: "round circle". A circle, by definition, is round, however "round" and "circle" aren't synonymous but you are repeating information - redundantly, maybe, but not always. –  James Stott Jun 4 '13 at 12:11
"Periphrasis" (n.) or "periphrase" (n.) is another possibility, closely in line with "circumlocution." See dictionary.reference.com/browse/periphrasis?db=dictionary. Considered a rhetorical trope, it can be used deliberately for effect, but I have a feeling the person you are describing, by implication, is unaware of his/her periphrasis. By the way, I have a good friend who is a master of periphrasis. Ask him a simple question, and a half hour later he still hasn't answered my question but has given me more information about X than I care to know! The opposite: succinct. –  rhetorician Jun 4 '13 at 12:32
@JamesStott In how far does redundancy definitely not mean "(too) many words"? I agree that it doesn't necessarily imply that - given your example I can imagine using "round circle" to emphasize that the mere "circle" shown recently was quite elliptic (as in "My hand-drawn circle is not as wiggly as yours" (TBO it'd be the other way around)). But some redundancy ("Are you really, really sure you want to shut down your computer after clicking on the shutdown button?") is too much –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 4 '13 at 12:36
@tobias thank you very much. I randomly stumbled upon this site andreally think it's a great idea. I have yet to explore the many other categories. Well I did get into the philosophy page and then realized if I sit and philosophize I will never find a job!! great site, great idea for a community driven Q & A that seems to attract a more intelligent and conscientious group than you would on most areas of the good ol World Wide Web ;-) –  Charlie Brown Jun 11 '13 at 12:39
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When you supersaturate somebody with information beyond their immediate requirement it is translated into an information overload. You end up making a mess of the whole matter because the recipient probably will even lose whatever vague initial understanding of the subject they had.

This is almost a normal occurrence when a postgraduate science student is asked to teach science to an eighth or a ninth grader. It is indeed an innocent curse because the elder is after all trying to help out the kid but unfortunately ends up messing it up.

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Welcome to English.SE! Supersaturate is an interesting alternative, thanks. By the way, if you want to avoid using he/she, they can also be used in singular, see this question –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 11 '13 at 8:28
thank you very much for the edits... Iam a new member to stack exchange.com and i can afford to spend one hour a day on the forum. –  user25641 Jun 14 '13 at 11:41
You're welcome. By the way, you can make sure that one specific person is informed about a comment by writing @username (first three letters are usually enough). Please take a minute to read the about site (you'll get a shiny badge!) on the differences to a forum (you may already have noticed that entries are sorted by votes, not by date). And the help is quite useful as well. I hope you enjoy StackExchange! –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 14 '13 at 11:56
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While I think @TobiasKienzler has some good alternative suggestions, this suggestion of 'esoteric' may or may not fit, depending on what kind of details they are.

From the additional context found in comments, it suggests that 'esoteric' isn't quite on target because the extra information is not necessarily difficult to understand or appreciate in its own right. I would be more inclined to go with a word used in comments to describe it, 'superseded' as it more aptly describes why the information is extra.


1 a : designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone
1 b : requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group ; broadly : difficult to understand

2 a : limited to a small circle
2 b : private, confidential

3 : of special, rare, or unusual interest

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Interesting suggestion, unofficially I'd consider calling the thing an esoteric discussion indeed. But I'm afraid in an official reply I should avoid that... –  Tobias Kienzler Jun 11 '13 at 8:30
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