When you have words that look and sound the same, you can be in for a lot of confusion. But what happens when you have two words that have different spellings and the same meaning? That can be more than confusing; it can lead to a lot of mistakes.
The verbage vs verbiage issue is a good example of this. The two tend to be used interchangeably, and that is a big problem. Because only one of them is actually a word to be begin with.
It might surprise you to know that ‘verbage’ is not a word. In fact, it is a common misspelling based on an improper pronunciation. So not only is it incorrect in spelling and use, but also just in spoken word.
Because the ‘i’ is commonly left unsaid, it changes the sound of the word. Think of it as the same kind of sound as ‘foliage’, where it will often be pronounced as ‘folage’. It is incorrect, but in that case, people don’t assume the two are different words.
The correct word to use in any instance is ‘verbiage’. This is said with a long ‘e’ sound, due to the silent ‘e’ at the end of the word.
But what, then, does ‘verbiage’ mean? There are two accepted dictionary definitions:
1) an excess of words, as in writing or speech.
2). a manner of expressing something in words.
The word ‘verbiage’ is one of the most frequently misused in the English language. Because it can mean something being expressed in an official way, it is put into a similar context that might not be completely correct.
The second definition is a difficult one to pull of. It doesn’t mean something is “wordy”, but rather the manner of language used is highly technical, usually to an unnecessary degree.
If using verbiage in the more common context, it means a serious overabundance of complicated or formal language. There are just too many words to describe a much simpler idea.
Verbage or Verbiage — Exceptions?
Unlike other examples, there are no exceptions where you can use verbage, because it is nothing more than a typo that got seriously out of hand. When writing, you have to make sure that the ‘i’ is included to make it correct.
When speaking, however, you can say ‘verbage’ and still be understood. It is a mistaken pronunciation, but because of the differences in accent, dialect and intonation, some may find that long ‘e’ to be a bit more complicated to work around than others. Especially put next to such a robust ‘ah’ sound.
Remember that the rules of spoken language can often be much more forgiving than those of written language. Writing is placed under a concrete, guided system. Even when expanding to create a different form for artistic purposes, those basic laws will still be followed.
So, ‘verbage’ is wrong, but ‘verbiage’ is correct. Try to completely strike the former from your mind, setting it aside as the typo that should have never been.