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Home » » Periphrasis Definition & examples

It is a figure in which something is stated in a roundabout way instead of being expressed in a direct and brief manner. It is also known as Circumlocution. 

'Trite and commonplace periphrasis', Martin cautions,  'must be shunned at all costs,  such as 'the nuptial tie ' for marriage,  'the lords of creation ' for mankind,  'the weaker vessel ' for womankind, etc.'

Periphrasis consists in a roundabout way of speaking or writing. Its users employ many or very long words where a few or simple words will do. It may be used for shoe of pedantry : Her olfactory system was suffering from a temporary inconvenience (i.e., her nose was blocked).It may be used to avoid low, technical,  or commonplace terms in order to make the speech more elegant :

'The finny tribe' for fish,  'the bleating kind' for sheep, 'the penultimate month' for November. Again,  it may be used for achieving greater poetic effect: 'The moving isles of winter' for icebergs, 'the jewel of the head' for the eye.

The chief characteristics of this figure are given below:

(i) Some fact or idea is expressed in a roundabout way

(ii) This is frequently done for avoiding the commonplace or for achieving poetic effect. 



The cup that cheers but not inebriates


The viewless couriers of the air (i.e.,winds) (Shakespeare) 


Sleep the sleep that knows no breaking (i.e.,death)  (scott)


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