Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: verbiage.

verbiage. This term has long had negative connotations, referring to language that is prolix or redundant. E.g.: “Fanatics sloughing through Stone’s pseudo-Joycean jungle of verbiage might note . . . his overuse of sentence fragments and quick, cheap imagery.” James Hannaham, “Hollywood Babble,” Village Voice, 21 Oct. 1997, at 65. Still, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary records a “rare” neutral sense: “diction, wording, verbal expression.” Unfortunately, this unneeded sense has been revived in recent years, so that it’s sometimes hard to say whether pejorative connotations should attach. E.g.: “In the past, Spencer’s public commentary has fallen short of the righteous, high-minded verbiage displayed in Diana’s eulogy.” Mary Voboril, “The Althorp Stories,” Newsday (N.Y.), 18 Sept. 1997, at A6. Strictly speaking, the phrase *”excess verbiage” is a redundancy, given the predominant meaning of “verbiage” — e.g.: “None of the excess verbiage [read “verbiage”] would matter, of course, if ‘Chasing Amy’ had no aspirations beyond the windbag coarseness of a young director.” Amy Biancolli, “‘Chasing’ Worthwhile, Yet Gritty,” Times Union (Albany), 18 Apr. 1997, at D1. *”Verbage” for “verbiage” is a common error perhaps spawned by the analogy of “herbage.” E.g.: “But too often, investors need a magnifying glass and a law degree to get through the document’s turgid, lengthy verbage [read ‘verbiage’].” David Lieberman, “Disney Overcomes Shareholder Protest,” USA Today, 26 Feb. 1997, at B3. This error might result partly from the common mispronunciation: /VUHR-bij/, rather than the correct /VUHR-bee-ij/. Also, endings in “-iage” are less common in English than those in “-age.” Language-Change Index — (1) “verbiage” misused for “verbal expression” (with neutral connotation): Stage 4; (2) *”excess verbiage” for “verbiage”: Stage 3; (3) “verbiage” misspelled *”verbage”: Stage 3. *Invariably inferior form. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “The introduction is so explicit a means of helping the reader to approach the task of reading the exposition that composing it is relatively simple compared with the task, often requiring much skill, of handling masses of detail in the body of the document.” J. Raleigh Nelson, Writing the Technical Report 26 (1st ed. 1940).
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