Posted by: Jack Henry | June 9, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Verbiage

Dear Editrix,

I may be a bit too bored, because I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of the word verbiage. Maybe I spent too much time in creative writing workshops, but I always thought that verbiage meant unnecessary words, such as, “You need to cut the verbiage here.” I’ve been noticing many people use it to mean a specific section of text. I would just use “this text” or “these lines” or, maybe if I was feeling hoity-toity, “the phraseology here.” Am I being too persnickety or has this struck you as well?


Dear Andrew,

Oh my goodness! Every time I see or hear the word verbiage I think the same thing! We must have had teachers from the same part of the country. I learned that verbiage means wordy or overly verbose. I can hear Mozart (well, the one from the movie Amadeus in 1984) saying, “Too many notes!” So, let us see if you and I remember this correctly.

According to Merriam-Webster (and the synonyms listed below), we are definitely on to something. The first definition is as follows:

verbiage (noun)

1: excessive use of words: superfluity of language in proportion to sense or content: prolixity, verbosity, wordiness

On the side of all the people who use the word to just mean “wording” or “phraseology” in general, here is the second definition:

2: manner of expressing oneself in words: diction, wording

There is also a longer explanation on Grammarly, which includes this:

  • Verbiage is a noun that means a plethora of words—usually unwelcome ones.
  • Verbiage can also be used to refer to someone’s style or manner of speaking.
  • Verbage is a non-standard word, possibly a portmanteau of the words verbiage and garbage. Its meaning is close to the meaning of verbiage and carries a negative connotation.

The word’s etymology, from the Online Etymology Dictionary is as follows: "abundance of words," 1721, from French verbiage "wordiness" (17c.), from Middle French verbier "to chatter," from Old French verbe "word," from Latin verbum "word."

While the Latin verbum doesn’t carry any particular negativity, the French verbiage (wordiness) is something we try to avoid.

So, what does all this mean? I think we should be changing verbiage to wording during editing, and asking those that use it if they mean to refer to their wording as excessive, verbose, and unwelcome. That said, I hear it so often that I think we may be fighting a losing battle.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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