Which Word Wednesday: Verbiage vs. Verbosity

By December 22, 2010 culture, language No Comments

Some of my friends have wondered when the word duels for Which Word Wednesday will be exhausted. I’m sure someday WWW will have its last posting . . . but I have some good news! I just received a book stocked with examples to choose from. I think we’ll be good through 2011. [Whew! Aren’t you relieved?]

A dear friend of mine just gave me The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language by Rod Evans. I am ecstatic! I long to read it in full, but today is not the day that allows for that. [sigh.]

The gift did provide today’s WWW word pair, as I couldn’t resist giving my new sourcebook a quick flip. I landed in the Vs, with verbiage and verbosity catching my eye. I thought that pair was a perfect selection for the final WWW of 2010 (regularly scheduled postings will resume mid-January).

As usual, let’s look at the Oxford American Dictionary definitions:

verbiage :: noun
speech or writing that uses too many words or excessively technical expressions.

verbosity :: noun
using or expressed in more words than are needed

Both words describe an excess of words. But according to Evans in The Artful Nuance, verbiage “applies to what is written” with a suggestion of obscurity or even meaninglessness, while verbosity applies “primarily to [what] is spoken.”1

Mark Davidson, in Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage, doesn’t make the distinction between excess words in writing (verbiage) or speech (verbosity). He says that we should “indict wordy writers for verbosity (the offense) by citing their verbiage (the results of the offense).”2

[polldaddy poll=4286346]

What’s my WWW verdict? I’ve always thought of verbiage as written words and verbosity as spoken words.  Although OAD and Davidson make no such distinction, Evans does, so I’m sticking with that. In addition, I’m quite often guilty of verbiage (by my own charge) but I am rarely guilty of verbosity (unless I’ve had too much caffeine).

And what’s your verdict? Do you think of verbiage and verbosity as synonyms for excess word usage? Or do you make a distinction between written words and spoken ones? Cast your vote and share your opinion in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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Sources
1. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 200.
2. Mark Davidson, Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 530–531.

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