Words About Words Study Guide

Updated on Sep 21, 2011

Words That Describe Words

In this study guide, you'll focus on some interesting words about words. There are many, and they can help you become more precise, and more powerful, as a speaker and writer.

As you've become aware while reading this book, every profession and subject has words that are unique to it. You now know that philologists study languages, and etymology is the study of the how words developed over time. There's even a special name for the study of spelling—it's called orthography— and onomatologists study names. So it should come as no surprise that words themselves are a subject area.

The combined learning of all these specialized fields, along with the study of literature and poetry, has resulted in a long list of words about words. You'll learn some of them here, and you'll probably be surprised by how precisely they describe other words and how words are used. You'll also notice that many describe the ways in which you yourself speak and write.


Check your own speech and writing for some of the words in this lesson. For example, do you use superfluous words, clichés, circumlocutions, or non sequiturs?

Words About Words

1. ambiguous. A vague, unclear, or indefinite word, expression, sentence, or meaning. Our teacher's instructions about how to write our essays were quite ambiguous, which confused us all.
2. analogy. A comparison between two things that suggests that they show a similarity in at least some aspects. Many people draw an analogy between how our brains work and how computers function.
3. circumlocution. A roundabout or indirect way of speaking; the use of more words than necessary to express an idea. My grandfather was famous in the family for his long-winded circumlocutions about what life was like when he was a boy.
4. cliché. A trite, overused expression or idea that has lost its originality and impact. Our school nurse was forever repeating her favorite timeworn cliché, An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
5. epigram/epigraph. An epigram is a short, witty poem, saying, or quotation that conveys a single thought in a clever way. An epigraph is a brief quotation that appears at the beginning of an article, essay, or novel to introduce the theme. Every lesson in this book has been introduced with an epigram used as an epigraph.
6. non sequitur. A statement or conclusion that doesn't follow logically from what preceded it. John's suggestion that we all protest the requirement of school uniforms was a non sequitur after the principal's announcement that our summer vacation was going to be cut short.
7. nuance. A slight degree of difference in meaning, feeling, or tone of something spoken or written. The poet's varied description of the joys of spring included subtle nuances that made us think of the changing seasons in an entirely new light
8. redundant. Speaking or writing that repeats the same idea several times. In order to meet the requirement of 300 words, Jane filled her essay with many redundant sentences that added no new ideas to her topic.
9. rhetorical question. A question asked with no expectation of a reply. The teacher asked us, rhetorically, if we thought we should have more homework.
10. simile. A statement using the words like or as to compare two dissimilar things. The valentine he sent me said Your face is like a rose. Similes are often confused with metaphors, which compare without using the words like and as. For example, a valentine might say, You are my special rose
11. superfluous. Something that's unnecessary, or more than enough or required. Reminding us to do our best on the final test is a superfluous bit of advice from our teacher.
12. verbiage. An overabundance of words in writing or speech. The doctor's verbiage confused me, but my mother was able to figure out what he meant.

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Words About Words Practice Exercises

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