Is there a word that describes the act, common of language learners, of using a cumbersome way to say something because they do not know a concise word (almost like I am doing here...).

For example:

That woman is the sister of my father.

Could be more efficiently said as

That woman is my aunt.

But the speaker may not know the word aunt even though they know father and sister.

  • lol great question. I believe there is no single word for that.
    – Fattie
    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:37
  • 5
    As an IT guy I'd use workaround 😄 Jul 31, 2014 at 10:14
  • 2
    @HonzaZidek "Hack", "Temporary Solution", "Java"
    – Cruncher
    Jul 31, 2014 at 17:02
  • 2
    So this questions is itself a circumlocution for circumlocution :|
    – netigger
    Aug 1, 2014 at 11:45
  • @DavidEverlöf Indeed! I thought it was kind of embarassing... Aug 5, 2014 at 6:24

7 Answers 7



And by proxy: roundabout speech, circumduction, circumvolution, periphrasis, or ambage

Roundabout speech refers to using many words (such as "a tool used for cutting things such as paper and hair") to describe something for which a concise (and commonly known) expression exists

source: wikipedia

  • @Deathkill14 a pleasure - I appreciate wikipedia is a poor source, but it gave one of the best examples of usage.
    – SW4
    Jul 31, 2014 at 9:00
  • 1
    impressive answer
    – Fattie
    Jul 31, 2014 at 11:29
  • 1
    LOL DUDE! you totally spelled it wrong in the heading, heh! :)
    – Fattie
    Jul 31, 2014 at 11:31
  • 1
    Great word, but just to raise the point that it doesn't necessarily address the aspect of the speaker not knowing a better term & in fact, may carry connotations of the opposite, OED says "the use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive." (my emphasis) Aug 1, 2014 at 10:08
  • @anotherdave - the closest seems to be the phrase 'roundabout speech'
    – SW4
    Aug 1, 2014 at 10:27

Teachers will often ask their students, learners of English, to paraphrase the word or expression that they are stuck on, this might also include giving a definition of the said word.


a rewording of something written or spoken by someone else.
Oxford dictionaries


I agree with the commentator above that "circumlocution" has a connotation of intentionality. I would use "floundering" for the behavior originally described, although that might have more of a connotation of incoherence than intended by the original question.


You can talk around the topic, as per this definition from Thefreedictionary.com:

_2. To speak indirectly about: talked around the subject but never got to the point.

  • 2
    In my experience "talking around" is usually used when the person is intentionally avoiding directly mentioning specific subject (or word I guess).
    – OGHaza
    Jul 31, 2014 at 9:57
  • right. talking in a roundabout way is what you say if you don't wanna use "circumlocution"
    – Fattie
    Jul 31, 2014 at 11:31
  • This is avoidinging directly speaking about a subject, not a word. It's completely different.
    – Benubird
    Jul 31, 2014 at 14:34

I think that the following terms can be used to indicate a way to express indirectly:

To imply:

  • to indicate or suggest without being explicitly stated.

To mean:

  • To intend to convey or indicate:

  • To be used to express; denote:



Verbose: using more words than is necessary.

  • This is not what the question asks for. Apr 22, 2015 at 4:44
  • 1
    +1 from me, because "verbose" is not entirely unrelated. @user118058 , I would suggest that you add an example sentence containing "verbose", for a case where the speaker did not know which word to use.
    – Prem
    Apr 22, 2015 at 5:15

The word lethologica may be relevant as defined by the Oxford dictionary.

The inability to remember a particular word or name.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.