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Your teacher assigns you an essay and you write down anything that can be said about the subject.

You are satisfied, but the word count doesn't reach the required minimum.

So you use lousy tricks like substituting "in other words" with "to put it another way", and generally rewriting each sentence in the most verbose way possible without increasing the conveyed concepts.

Bingo: the essay is much worse than before but it's now "long enough".

In Italian we use the derogatory idiom "allungare la brodaglia" which can be literally translated by "to water down the broth" or "to water down the slop" meaning to increase the use of unnecessary words to make the essay look longer but without adding any concept to it.

Is there an equivalent derogatory idiom in English?


So far I only found "to stretch out the meeting" to mean "to talk and talk in order to make the meeting longer than necessary".

In my case can I use "to stretch out the essay" or "to stretch out the slop" to mean "to add unnecessary words to the essay with the only purpose of increasing the word count, even at the expense of the readability of the essay"?

Any other idiom suggested?

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  • 1
    Since your alias looks like a combination of "Futuroma" and "The Simpsons": American Dad, Season 1, Episode 1, 13:20 in.
    – Nat
    Jan 2, 2023 at 9:23
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    I would say that he's writing "like he's paid by the word". Jan 2, 2023 at 18:23
  • 2
    related (padding out letters instead of words): "sesquipedalian loquaciousness"
    – user253751
    Jan 2, 2023 at 23:02
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    I think it's worth mentioning that "to water something down" is an English idiom. It usually means to make an idea or something less forceful. But I would say it would not apply to your specific case of "adding extra words to make an essay less concise/clear and therefore worse".
    – Jagerber48
    Jan 3, 2023 at 3:50
  • 1
    Seems like a new word emerged: ChatGPT. Jan 4, 2023 at 0:31

11 Answers 11

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I would describe the process as inflating or padding my essay.

I might call the extra words and phrases I add fluff.

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    "Padding" could also be used here (for the action as well as the unnecessary material). Longman definition: "unnecessary and uninteresting details or words that are added to make a sentence, speech etc longer – used to show disapproval"
    – nschneid
    Jan 1, 2023 at 20:09
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    I agree and I added it to my answer. If this comment is not sufficient attribution, I can note it in the answer itself that it came from you. Jan 1, 2023 at 20:11
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    Thanks to @nschneid 's comment I found that the verb is pad (something) out. Example: "Don’t pad out your answer to make it seem impressive" from this definition (see pad² verb meaning 4) Jan 1, 2023 at 23:01
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    I think that the idiomatic usage would be "Don't pad your answer" (that is, without the word "out" from "pad out" as suggested.
    – Philippe
    Jan 2, 2023 at 18:00
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Dictionary.com

waffle 2 /informal, mainly British /

verb
1 (intr often foll by on) to speak or write in a vague and wordy manner: he waffled on for hours

noun
2 vague and wordy speech or writing

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    Side note: In the US, "waffle" has a completely different meaning. (Aside from the literal definition of a pancake-like food one eats for breakfast ...) It means to be vague about one's position or to change one's position to suit whatever is popular at the moment. Often used of politicians, as in, "Senator Jones has really waffled on gun control. When he's in Massachusetts he sounds like he's pro-gun control, but when he's in Texas he's against it."
    – Jay
    Jan 1, 2023 at 23:09
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    @jay that would be flip-flopping. Waffling would be refusing to give clear answer.
    – fectin
    Jan 2, 2023 at 14:45
  • Outstanding! Also, I disagree there would be confusion for American readers. Sure, waffle has a number of senses; as does 100% of words in English.
    – Fattie
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:41
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    @Jay I've always thought the politicians were using the wrong breakfast food for that analogy. It should be pancakes - which, unlike waffles, have to be flipped while cooking. Jan 4, 2023 at 17:39
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    waf·fle [ˈwäfəl] VERB NORTH AMERICAN fail to make up one's mind: "Joseph had been waffling over where to go" BRITISH speak or write, especially at great length, without saying anything important or useful: "he waffled on about everything that didn't matter"
    – Eddified
    Jan 4, 2023 at 23:56
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It's on the vulgar side, but in college we used the term bullshitting to convey this exact meaning. One who was particularly skilled in it was a bullshit artist.

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  • This usage is popular in Europe in university and professional contexts too. In my mind "bullshitting" also encompasses the use of buzzwords the intended audience likes. However, that meaning is a little different since the challenge with college texts and professional texts is typically to stay below a maximum word count.
    – Joooeey
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:32
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    This doesn't have the same meaning to me (not in English at least). Jan 3, 2023 at 17:17
  • I had a teacher tell us that if we needed help making it to the assigned page/word length that we should BS - Be Specific.
    – vir
    Jan 3, 2023 at 22:31
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    In the US, I take this to mean lies and/or nonsense, not honest, accurate information presented using more words than necessary.  Also I believe that it’s more commonly applied to speech than to writing.  See American Heritage, Collins and Macmillan Jan 4, 2023 at 3:47
  • An alternative to bullshit artist could be bullshit merchant, or simply bullshitter Jan 4, 2023 at 9:00
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I can't think of any commonly-used idiom. If I wanted to express this idea, I would probably say, "unnecessarily verbose", or simply "wordy".

There is the informal phrase, "padded out", or "padded out with fluff", which you might consider an idiom. But that's usually used to mean, not that each sentence includes more words than necessary, but that unnecessary extra material has been included. Like the student was assigned to write a paper about the assassination of Julius Caesar and he couldn't make it long enough, so he threw in irrelevant discussion of the Punic Wars.

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  • Ah! Padded! Brilliant!
    – Fattie
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:41
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Purple Prose is a related idiom, that is definitely critical or derogatory.

It's not specifically aimed at inflated length, but there is significant crossover.

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    When purple prose is longer than ordinary speech, it's to allow florid metaphors, elaborate paraphrase, and long words, not to pad out.
    – Mary
    Jan 4, 2023 at 0:58
  • As I said, it's a related and overlapping, though distinct, concept. It is entirely possible for the intent to include achieving a greater length, especially for a writing project, since it's (slightly) easier to defend as authorial voice.
    – Variatas
    Jan 5, 2023 at 22:00
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I'm not sure there is an idiom that is an exact match, but a few similar phrases come to mind. (Perhaps with a British slant.)

  • "Alice only had one original idea in her essay, but she milked it for all it was worth." - (over)use something to the point of exhaustion.
  • "Boris hadn't prepared for the exam, but he wrote four pages of waffle and hoped for the best."
  • "Caroline's approach to essay-writing was simple: never use one word where a dozen might do." (Or any other number >1 instead of 'a dozen'!)
  • "Darren's essay focussed on quantity over quality." (An unfavorable contrast with the more common phrase, 'quality over quantity').
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"Padding", "puffing up", "pencil whipping", "glorifying", "bullshitting", "bloviating" and "inflating" all work equally well.

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Perhaps "to over-egg the pudding". EDIT: It's not used solely for writing, however. It would suggest writing that is overly flowery rather than full of superfluous words. Which I guess is the opposite of watering down... It rather depends on what kind of words are being added to lengthen the essay.

"to stretch out the essay" > Yes. "to stretch out the slop" > No.

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    Is this a British English set phrase? As an American i have no idea what it means... Jan 3, 2023 at 14:43
  • @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas This is UK English but sounds very ''literary'' or ''artistic'', like you might refer to a writer who was well-known for over-egging the pudding ie. being too flowery and extravagant with their novel writing. Jan 3, 2023 at 17:15
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    "over-egging the pudding" is a little too vague here, I think. It means something close to "going too far in an otherwise reasonable direction"; overdoing it; trying much too hard and so messing up. But if an essay is padded with waffle then the argument may well not be over-egged, but watered down. But if, say, a writer goes on from describing a minor, relatable annoyance on public transport to advocating the guillotine for the perpetrators and merely for the sake of additional column-inches, then certainly they have lost the reader by over-egging for the sake of word count.
    – Dan
    Jan 4, 2023 at 2:53
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Slipslop, while labeled archaic in the Merriam-Webster entry, seems to be a good fit. It even contains slop from your translation.

The concrete meaning is indeed "watery food". The second meaning in the dictionary entry is "shallow talk or writing", which comes close to fluff or padding.

I should add that I didn't know that word before I encountered it as one of the translations for Gelaber in LEO.

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  • Writing that is slipslop is bad prose, it is meaningless and careless i.e. "sloppy" without substance or a clear idea.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4, 2023 at 11:34
  • @Mari-LouA Well, it's the text equivalent of watery soup. That's what you get by adding water to a good soup or insubstantial words to a good text. Jan 4, 2023 at 11:58
  • If someone's accuses a piece of writing as being slipslop they are not criticising its length or how much of it is redundant. They are saying it is clumsily and shoddily written.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4, 2023 at 12:06
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The word Verbiage means exactly this:

a profusion of words usually of little or obscure content

  • Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

language that is very complicated and contains a lot of unnecessary words

  • Cambridge Dictionary

If you refer to someone's speech or writing as verbiage, you are critical of them because they use too many words, which makes their speech or writing difficult to understand.

  • Collins Dictionary
0

How about "beating around the bush?"

It means "discuss a matter without coming to the point." (definition from Google)

To my dismay, the author beat around the bush instead of writing a clear, concise essay.

He never beat around the bush when something was annoying him.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/beat-around-the-bush

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  • I think that "beating around the bush" is more avoiding the point because you are embarrassed to talk about it (and thus more relevant to speech than to writing) rather than adding useless words to make the writing longer. - If the subject is "Have you ever stolen?" and the plain an simple answer is "Once I stole an apple": if I say "My family is very poor, I don't always have enough to eat..." I am beating around the bush, while if I say "In one day which date I cannot remember I stole a round fruit called apple" I am padding, or stretching, or inflating as some answers pointed out. Jan 5, 2023 at 10:50

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