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periphrasis


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[pe-rif-ră-sis](plural -ases)

A roundabout way of referring to something by means of several words instead of naming it directly in a single word or phrase. Commonly known as ‘circumlocution’, periphrasis is often used in euphemisms like passed away for ‘died’, but can have a more emphatic effect in poetry, as in the use of kennings. It was especially cultivated by 18th-century poets whose principle of decorum discouraged them from using commonplace words: thus fish were called the finny tribe, and in Robert Blair's poem ‘The Grave’ (1743) a telescope is the sight-invigorating tube. The 17th-century French fashion for préciosité cultivated periphrasis to excess. Adjective: periphrastic. See also antonomasia, litotes, poetic diction.

Subjects: Literature


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