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Logorrhoea or logorrhea (Greek λογορροια, logorrhoia, “word-flux”) is defined as an “excessive flow of words” and, when used medically, refers to incoherent talkativeness that occurs in certain kinds of mental illness, such as mania. The spoken form of logorrhoea (in the non-medical sense) is a kind of verbosity that uses superfluous or fancy words to disguise a useless or simple message as useful or intellectual, and is commonly known as “verbal diarrhea.”
Logorrhoea as a description of rhetoric
The word logorrhoea is often used pejoratively to describe prose that is highly abstract and consequently contains little concrete language. Since abstract writing is hard to visualize, it often seems as though it makes no sense and all the words are excessive. Writers in academic fields that concern themselves mostly with the abstract, such as philosophy and especially postmodernism, often fail to include extensive concrete examples of their ideas, and so an examination (superficial or otherwise, according to various points of view) of their work might lead one to believe that it is all nonsense, hence the pejorative epithet "pomobabble" (a neologism inspired from postmodern babble).
The widespread expectation that scholarly works in these fields will look at first glance like nonsense is the source of humor that pokes fun at these fields by comparing actual nonsense with real academic writing. Several computer programs have been made that can generate texts resembling the styles of these fields but which are actually nonsensical. A physics professor, Alan Sokal even had such an essay published in a respected journal (Social Text) as a practical joke, which the journal kept defending as a genuine article even after its author rebuked it publicly in a subsequent article in another academic journal. (See Sokal Affair.)
Logorrhoea can also be used as a form of euphemism, to disguise unpleasant facts and ideas.
The term is also sometimes less precisely applied to unnecessarily (and often redundantly) wordy speech in general; this is more usually referred to as prolixity.
Use of additional words that are not strictly necessary, however, is often idiomatic, a matter of artistic preference, or helpful in explaining complex ideas or messages that might otherwise be unclear. Such uses are not logorrhoeic.
Examples of logorrhoea
In his essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946), the English writer George Orwell wrote about logorrhoea in politics. He took the following verse (9:11) from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible:
|“||I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.||”|
He rewrote it like this:
|“||Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.||”|
Note Orwell's deliberate usage of unnecessary words that only serve to further complicate the statement. For instance, the words "objective" and "invariably" could be cut with virtually no loss of meaning. (Ironically, however, because the King James translation contains archaic grammar, some contemporary academics may find Orwell's version actually easier to understand.)
In his anecdote collection Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, the physicist and raconteur Richard Feynman describes a time when he participated in a multi-disciplinary conference discussing the nebulous topic "the ethics of equality". Feynman was at first apprehensive, having read none of the books the conference organizers had recommended. A sociologist brought a paper he had written beforehand to the committee where Feynman served, asking everyone to read it. Feynman found it completely incomprehensible and feared that he was out of his depth—until he decided to pick one sentence at random and parse it until he understood. The sentence he chose (to the best of his recollection) was
- The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels.
Feynman "translated" the sentence and discovered it meant "People read". The rest of the paper soon made sense in the same fashion.
Further examples are easy to create:
- Doctors say that the best way to lose weight is to eat less.
- The medical community indicates that downsizing average total daily intake is maximally efficacious in the field of proactive weight-reduction methodologies.
- He is the sort of person who will call a spade a spade.
- This man is a member of the personality class exhibiting the tendency to term a pedally operated humus redistribution device a pedally operated humus redistribution device.
A classic example:
- A rolling stone gathers no moss.
- A sizeable mass of igneous substance tumbling end-over-end down an inclined plane is unlikely to be adhered to by any statistically significant amount of lichenous material.
Nigel Hawthorne's bravura delivery of Sir Humphrey Appleby's pieces of logorrhoea was among the highlights of the comedy series Yes Minister. An example:
- The identity of the official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, but not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
- ("It was I.")
Another taken from the sequel, "Yes, Prime Minister":
- Appleby: Prime Minister, I must protest in the strongest possible terms my profound opposition to a newly instituted practice which imposes severe and intolerable restrictions upon the ingress and egress of senior members of the hierarchy and which will in all probability, should the current deplorable innovation be perpetuated, precipitate a constriction of the channels of communication and culminate in organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis which will render impossible the coherent discharge of the function of government within Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
- Hacker: You mean you've lost your key?
The benefits of being concise
Whilst some authors may feel that writing with long and obscure words gives them the appearance of greater intelligence, a recent study from the Psychology department of Princeton University found that this was not the case. Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer conducted a series of five experiments which found that when shown samples of writing with varying word length, undergraduate students rated those with short, concise text, as being written by the most intelligent authors. By contrast, those who needlessly used excessively long words or complex font types were perceived to be less intelligent. For example, the author of "The principal educational aspiration I have established for myself is to utilize my capabilities to the fullest" was rated as less intelligent than the author of the more concise "The primary academic goal I have set for myself is to use my potential to the fullest."
In the United Kingdom there is a pressure group called the Plain English Campaign who offer editing and training to authors in order to help achieve 'Plain English', "language that the intended audience can understand and act upon from a single reading."
Logorrhoea as a form of mental illness
Logorrhoea is a language disorder present in a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders including aphasia, localised cortical lesions in the thalamus, or most typically in schizophrenia with catatonia.
Examples of logorrhoea might include talking or mumbling monotonously either to others or more likely oneself. This may include the repetition of particular words of phrases, often incoherently. The causes for logorrhoea remain poorly understood, but appear to be localised to frontal lobe structures known to be associated with language. As is the case, for example, in emotional lability in a wide variety of neurological conditions, other symptoms take priority in clinical management and research efforts.
Logorrhoea should not be confused with pressure of speech, which is characterised by the 'flighty' alternation from topic to topic by tenuous links such as rhyming or punning. Logorrhoea is a symptom of an underlying illness and should be treated by a medical professional. Several of the possible causes of logorrhoea respond well to medication.
- Circumstantial speech
- Elegant variation
- English language
- English usage
- Tangential speech
- Word salad
- The Postmodernism Generator -- A computer program that writes meaningless but highly convincing postmodern essays
- The Sokal Affair -- More on the Sokal affair
- Scott Pakin's automatic complaint-letter generator
- The UN Fund for Gobbledygook A "UN-speak" generator
- A Markov text generator generates nonsense in the style of another work, because the probability of spitting out each word depends only on the n words before it
- Website of the Plain English Campaign
- A "gobbledygook" generator from the Plain English Campaign's website
- Speech Disorders as Indicators of Potential for Lyrical Success A satirical look at how logorrhoea may contribute to a music career.
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