What is the Circumlocution Office?

Our site is named after The Circumlocution Office. a fictitious governmental department featured in the Charles Dickens novel Little Dorrit.

 

Definition of Circumlocution.

The word ‘circumlocution’ describes the use of an unnecessarily amount of words to get to the point, where just a a few would do. According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary the full definition of circumlocution is either:

  • the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea
  • evasion in speech

 

The term has its origins in the Middle English circumlocucyon, from Latin circumlocution-, circumlocutio, from circum- + locutio speech, from loqui to speak, and was first recorded in the 15th century.

 

Use of the term Circumlocution Office.

The term ‘Circumlocution Office’ was first coined by Charles Dickens in his novel Little Dorrit to describe, and parody, the government bureaucracy of the day.

littledorrit_coverimage

Little Dorrit cover image

In Chapter 10 of the novel, Arthur Clennam visits the Circumlocution Office trying to find out about the case against a man called William Dorrit, who is in prison for debt. He is passed from official to official trying to find a satisfactory answer.

Little Dorrit was first serialised between 1855 and 1857At the time, Charles Dickens was angry with the government’s mishandling of the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) and sought to satirise the incompetence of bureaucracy.

It being one of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, on any account whatever, to give a straightforward answer.

item Little Dorrit. Book 1, Chapter 10.

 

Legacy.

Headline from a 2011 newspaper article illustrating contemporary use of the term Circumlocution Office in an article calling for government bureaucratic reform.

Over 150 years after Charles Dickens first used it,  the term Circumlocution Office is still used to ridicule governmental bureaucracy where business is delayed by passing through the hands of different officials.

 

 

 

 

No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and.

item Little Dorrit. Book 1, Chapter 10.

 

 

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