As a professional freelance writer, I take pride in my craft. I’d like to think that I’m at least halfway decent at what I do and my writing has improved over the years. The hope is that my writing is reasonably entertaining and engaging… and grammatically correct. Truth be told, though, I’m hardly immune to making mistakes, of course, and a mistake I’ve made for years is using the word “verbage.” Because it’s not a real word.

It was never a real word. I just thought it was, because I’ve heard the incorrect pronunciation so many times and it stuck.

This is very similar to the problem we encounter with the word “foliage.” When referring to a collection of leaves (as in “the beautiful fall foliage”), a common mistake is to use the non-word “foilage” instead. That’s wrong. It’s foliage (pronounced “foh-lee-ij”), not foilage (pronounced “foy-lij”).

In like manner, when you think that you want to use the word “verbage” (pronounced as two syllables: “verb-ij”), the correct word you should be using is “verbiage” (pronounced as three syllables: “vur-bee-ij”). See that “i” in the middle? It’s making all the difference.

Verbiage has two main definitions, both of which are nouns:

  1. Excessively wordy speech or writing
  2. The manner in which something is expressed

Synonyms with the first definition in mind may include verbosity (being verbose), wordiness, or loquacity (being loquacious). This is the more common definition used internationally. Professor David’s verbiage was putting his students to sleep.

The second definition is more common among American English and it’s the one that usually comes to mind for me. It refers to wording or diction. In a professional context, I oftentimes consult with my clients to make sure I am selecting the right verbage verbiage for the type of writing they want and the audience they wish to target.

It’s funny how language works sometimes. When I see words like reactance and quean, I assume they’re mistakes. (They’re not.) And when I use the word “verbage,” I assumed it was right. (It’s not.) That’s okay, because we are all allowed to make mistakes, so long as we are willing to adjust when we learn of our erroneous ways.

Was that the right verbiage in that context?