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 '14 at 8:37
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    As an IT guy I'd use workaround 😄 – Honza Zidek Jul 31 '14 at 10:14
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    @HonzaZidek "Hack", "Temporary Solution", "Java" – Cruncher Jul 31 '14 at 17:02
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    So this questions is itself a circumlocution for circumlocution :| – netigger Aug 1 '14 at 11:45
  • @DavidEverlöf Indeed! I thought it was kind of embarassing... – Deathkill14 Aug 5 '14 at 6:24


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 '14 at 9:00
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    impressive answer – Fattie Jul 31 '14 at 11:29
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    LOL DUDE! you totally spelled it wrong in the heading, heh! :) – Fattie Jul 31 '14 at 11:31
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    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) – anotherdave Aug 1 '14 at 10:08
  • @anotherdave - the closest seems to be the phrase 'roundabout speech' – SW4 Aug 1 '14 at 10:27

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.

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    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 '14 at 9:57
  • right. talking in a roundabout way is what you say if you don't wanna use "circumlocution" – Fattie Jul 31 '14 at 11:31
  • This is avoidinging directly speaking about a subject, not a word. It's completely different. – Benubird Jul 31 '14 at 14:34

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

  • Hi, wellcome back :)) – user66974 Jul 31 '14 at 13:11

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. – curiousdannii Apr 22 '15 at 4:44
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    +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 '15 at 5:15

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