Definition of periphrasis in US English:


nounPlural periphrases

  • 1The use of indirect and circumlocutory speech or writing.

    • ‘In order to refer to the activity denoted by the F-word, it is necessary to engage in circumlocution or periphrasis.’
    • ‘Such recondite periphrasis brought its own reward.’
    • ‘When Johnson refers to his mind as ‘Summus… celsa dominator [in] arce ’, the elaborate periphrasis mockingly dramatizes the blustery ‘empty force’ of his mind's pretensions.’
    • ‘The parodic cupid's dart is described with the maximum of periphrasis compatible with not actually disguising what the organ is, ‘a piece of flesh, the characteristic part of a barrow-pig’.’
    • ‘Can one be an avid fan of a book - or is this lazy-minded periphrasis for ‘favourite’?’
    wordiness, verboseness, loquacity, garrulity, talkativeness, volubility, expansiveness, babbling, blathering, waffling, prattling, prating, jabbering, gushing
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 An indirect and circumlocutory phrase.
      • ‘Homeric glosses, along with scholarly neologisms and obscure periphrases, are prominent in his poetry.’
      • ‘His deliberate translationese, his consciously awkward periphrases, and yes, his fart jokes suggest that all language, or all poetry, might be as artificial and arbitrary as his own: why not redo ‘Where are the snows of yesteryear?’’
      • ‘This isn't what ‘ineffable’ means: she's using it as a fancy periphrasis for ‘unspeakable’, but its orientation is exactly the opposite.’
      • ‘Her dread is so great that at the end of her progress she does not even allow his name to pass her lips and uses periphrases to talk of him.’
      • ‘We intentional animals keep falling into the trap of mistaking the periphrases for the facts.’
    2. 1.2Grammar The use of separate words to express a grammatical relationship that is otherwise expressed by inflection, e.g., did go as opposed to went and more intelligent as opposed to smarter.


Mid 16th century: via Latin from Greek, from periphrazein, from peri- ‘around’ + phrazein ‘declare’.