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Periphrasis: Meaning and Examples of This Lovely Literary Device

Periphrasis: Meaning and Examples
Periphrasis is to use excessive language to make a short sentence long without changing its meaning. Buzzle will give you a complete understanding of periphrasis with loads of examples.
Christina Andrew
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Periphrasis is derived from the Greek language, peri and phrazein. Peri meaning 'around' and phrazein meaning 'declare'.
I'm sure you can relate to the real life situation that I'm now going to tell you about. Remember the most-dreaded time of the years you spent in school, or college? I'm talking about exams here! Studying for exams was a task, wasn't it? But many a time it so happened that even after you studied a lot, there were few things you couldn't remember while writing your paper. So, even if you had the basic concept of an answer in your mind, the answer you wrote on the paper seemed to look very short. And writing short answers for a 10 marks question is never advisable, is it? So to get that score, what did we do then? Just elongated the sentences. Not literally though, but increased the words of the same sentence having the same meaning! It's a trick we all have tried!

The definition of periphrases would be just that! Using excessive language where it isn't required. Also known as the use of circumlocution, it goes round about the same thing to get to a conclusion.
Periphrasis examples
▶ We are now going to tell you how we generally use periphrasis in normal sentences and try to make them longer than they should be, keeping the same meaning, going round about it over and over again, to show you how easy it is, as I just typed this periphrasis that you are reading right now!

A smaller version of the above sentence would be - We will now tell you how periphrasis is used in sentences. (Since we already told you the meaning of periphrasis above, we needn't describe it here again, right?)

Periphrasis is not just going round and round, but it also gives a different impact and leaves an impression on the person reading it.

Like when you are expressing your love to your partner, you wouldn't just want to say 'I love you' all the time. Your partner will think you are so passive, and inexpressive, and would always want you to say some really nice words once in a while.

If I wanted to say something to my love, it would be a perfect example of periphrasis! And it would be something like this -
▶ The first time I saw you, I didn't know what had happened to me. I couldn't take my eyes off your face, like it cast a spell on me. The way you laughed made my entire day. One glimpse of you, and that was all i wanted like a daily prescription for my smile. But i just wished all the time, if this glimpse could one day turn into eternity. And here you are today, right in front of me, the love of my life!

The smaller version of the above sentence? 'I love you'!
A TIME Magazine Article: "Elongated Yellow Fruit"

"On the late Boston Transcript, a feature writer, with a fondness for using three words where one would do, once referred to bananas as 'elongated yellow fruit.' This periphrasis so fascinated Charles W. Morton . . . that he began collecting examples of 'Elongated Yellow Fruit' writing.


▶ "In the New York Herald Tribune a beaver was almost incognito as 'the furry, paddle-tailed mammal.'

▶ "The Denver Post elongated 'mustache' into 'under-nose hair crops.'

▶ "To the Associated Press, Florida tangerines were 'that zipper-skinned fruit.'

▶ "In the Lincoln [Neb.] Sunday Journal-Star a cow did not give milk; 'the vitamin-laden liquid' came from a 'bovine milk factory.' . . .

▶ "The Boston American's ski columnist could not decide whether to call snow 'the elusive white substance' or 'the heavenly tapioca.' And in Travel magazine, skiers slid down the slopes on 'the beatified barrel staves.'"
("Elongated Fruit." Time, Aug. 10, 1953)
Examples of Periphrasis in Literature
Where Shakespeare wanted to say that no one can avoid death in Sonnet 74, he used periphrasis -

▶ When that fell arrest / Without all bail shall carry me away.

In Dickens' David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber wanted to say he will show someone the way, which he did with much periphrasis -

▶ Under the impression... that your peregrinations in this metropolis have not as yet been extensive, and that you might have some difficulty in penetrating the arcana of the Modern Babylon in the direction of the City Road-in short... that you might lose yourself-I shall be happy to call this evening, and install you in the knowledge of the nearest way.

In Hamlet, Ophelia is warned about losing her virginity to Hamlet in a periphrastic way -

▶ Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open / To his unmast'red importunity.

▶ In The Great Gatsby, Daisy is referred to as - 'the girl who leaves the top down in a borrowed convertible'.

▶ In Harry Potter, the main villain Voldemort is referred to as - "He Who Must Not Be Named."

With the above examples, it's clear how this literary device adds beauty to language and elicits curiosity in the mind of a reader towards what you are saying.