The Grammarphobia Blog

Vowel movement

Q: I heard it again on TV this week and my teeth are still on edge. A new public figure running for national office used the incorrect term “verbage” twice in a seconds-long film clip. You’ve probably tackled this before but would you do it again?

A: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there are two acceptable ways to pronounce “verbiage” in modern English: as three syllables or two.

Both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) list these pronunciations as standard English: VUR-bee-idj and VUR-bidj.

This may be a relatively recent development, though. My old Webster’s Second from the 1950s lists only the three-syllable version.

A little history: The word “verbiage” (from the Latin verbum, or “word”) entered French in the 17th century and was adopted by English in the 18th century.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “verbiage” as “Wording of a superabundant or superfluous character, abundance of words without necessity or without much meaning; excessive wordiness.”

Now, that’s a mouthful!

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