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All the references I'm finding says that 'verbiage' is used when trying to insult a work or person for being too wordy.

My experience with the word (by my own usage and the usage of others around me) have always meant that verbiage was a generic term for the words used, i.e. "I got that information from the email's verbiage."

Have I been using 'verbiage' incorrectly all my life?

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Yes, it is, and you have. Maybe you should have checked a dictionary definition earlier! :) –  FumbleFingers Jul 26 '11 at 22:08
Apparently every person I've met has also been using the word wrong. Which is why I asked the question. –  OghmaOsiris Jul 26 '11 at 22:19
I believe you are a non-native English speaker. Perhaps in your own language you have a common word without negative connotations for the same thing. I'm not saying there are no such words in English, but we would normally just say "from the email", "from a book", etc. We don't normally refer to the text as such in most contexts. If we do, it tends to be about the way something is written, not the information content of the writing. –  FumbleFingers Jul 26 '11 at 22:26
That's pretty presumptuous... I've spoken English my whole life. I don't speak any other language. –  OghmaOsiris Jul 26 '11 at 22:28
Sorry - I meant no offense. But I must say "the email's verbiage" sounds a very odd thing to say if you're not intending to call attention to its verbosity. Perhaps this is a regional/dialectal thing (I'm British). –  FumbleFingers Jul 26 '11 at 22:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

OALD defines verbiage as

[uncountable] (formal, disapproving)
the use of too many words, or of more difficult words than are needed, to express an idea

Wiktionary's verbiage entry notes an alternative definition

(2) (US) The manner in which something is expressed in words

but points out that another way of saying this, like "diction" or "phrasing", may be better if you want to avoid the pejorative connotation of the main definition.

It seems that plenty of people have the same question, wondering if verbiage refers just to words or phrasing:

Nevertheless, we often hear and read such expressions as “too much verbiage,” “excess verbiage,” and “excessive verbiage.” Perhaps the writers of these expressions have the second definition in mind.

As a speaker of American English, I'd agree with Wiktionary that verbiage alone still carries the connotation of lots of words, but to me it doesn't say strongly how you feel about those bunches of words. That would explain why I've never been surprised to see excessive verbiage — the addition of "excessive" makes it more clear that you don't want those extra words.

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A related possibility: verbiage is picking up the negative connotations from the related word verbosity. –  JSBձոգչ Jul 27 '11 at 1:15

Merriam Webster Online gives two definitions: the first has the negative connotation, and the second one doesn't. I've heard it used both ways; in any event, the intention is probably clear from the context, in most cases.

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I think you would struggle to find many written instances from the last 50 years where "verbiage" is not used in a derogatory sense. 100 years ago and more it was 'neutral', but gradually it's become conflated with the always derogatory "verbosity". –  FumbleFingers Jul 26 '11 at 22:31
I use it almost daily at work. It's become common in a professional setting for me. –  OghmaOsiris Jul 26 '11 at 23:25
In a crossword puzzle, Clue "Word Slaughter" answer: "Verbiage". –  davey Jul 27 '11 at 8:10

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