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“Guilty as charged,” she said culpably.
“Don’t be such a fool,” he said contemptuously.
“The honest facts are …”
Ever come across this kind of stuff? Ever written it? I have. Bloated, redundant prose.
Let’s take that last one, for example. Facts by their very definition are honest. Adding “honest” as a qualifier is not only unnecessary, it adds no value. Worse, it undermines the intelligence of the writer and insults that of the reader. They’re likely to raise an inquisitive eyebrow … questioningly.
For those who write for pleasure, business, or professionally (and that’s likely all of us), Marcia’s post is insightful, timeless, and hilarious. It’s both a fun end-of-year read and a solid foundation for wherever your 2015 words take you.
Hopefully that’s crystal clear. Enjoy.
The Annals of Redundancy Annals: 650 Phrases To Think Twice About
You Can Say That Again
Ever dig into a book with relish?
Scratch that. Dig into says “with relish.”
Ever dig into a book? The other night, my husband did just that. He had heard good things about it. He couldn’t wait to read it. He adjusted the lights for reading, settled into his recliner, cranked up his feet, and gave the author what every author dreams of: undivided attention. A few pages in, he pitched the book into the recycle bin. Why? Because it was filled with distractingly redundant writing like this:
And yet, the man thought to himself contradictorily…
Double duh! First, the man is thinking to himself. To whom else would he think? We don’t need himself. Second, the man is thinking contradictorily. How else would and yet cross his mind? We don’t need contradictorily. If the author had stopped at “And yet, the man thought,” my husband might have finished the book. And if the author had stopped at “And yet”—giving readers the satisfaction of figuring out that the man is thinking those words—my husband might, by now, be urging this book on his friends.
Eight words. Two words. Eight words. Two words. I could add “hands weighing,” but you don’t need that visual-verbal redundancy: you already picture the hands.
Here’s an example of visual-verbal redundancy that comes straight from my mailbox:
“See inside for details.” Somebody paid to have this line printed. On an envelope. Envelopes, in their very envelopeness, say, I envelop something. Guess where you can find it! Hint: It’s not here on the outside.
I’ve even run into aural-verbal redundancy. I used to work with a woman named Tina whose mother began every phone call this way: “HA-llo. DEE-na. DEES eez your MAH-ther.” Thanks for telling me, Ma. It could have been an impersonator.
Redundancy. Unhelpful duplication. Bryan A. Garner describes it as “the result of semiconscious writing” (Garner’s Modern American Usage 3rd ed., p. 701). Redundancy creeps into everyone’s writing. At best, it adds bloat. At worst, it insults readers’ intelligence.
We don’t intend to insult readers, so why do we do it? Because we’re thinking about our meaning, not our words. In the great stew of language, words with similar meanings stick together. When we dip into the pot, we often scoop out more than we need.
Every day I gather redundant phrases from TV, radio, the web, books, labels, billboards, conversations—including my part in those conversations. If you’re going to collect something, why not something that costs nothing, requires no space, hurts no one, makes people smile, and offers itself in abundance? This hobby is as easy as picking up bits of gravel from a gravel road, each bit taking on value only because someone bothered to notice and cherish it.
Of course, redundancy depends on the context. As technical writer Alex Fornuto says, “There’s always room for argument with these things.” Take live show. Alex notes that if you’re talking to friends about an upcoming performance, all you have to say is the show—your friends know that it’s live. On the other hand, if you’re inviting people over to watch a TV show, say Saturday Night Live, and you want them to know that it’s not a rerun, you might want to say the live show or even the live Live show. Okay, I’m messing with you. You’d never say the live Live show to your friends, no matter how much you might enjoy saying it to yourself.
Here’s another example: whether or not. The or not is “usually superfluous” since “whether implies or not,” as grammarian Bryan Garner notes, but sometimes you need the whole phrase.  Take these two sentences:
My friend can’t decide whether to change jobs. [Or not is not needed.]
Whether or not my friend changes jobs, she’ll change the world. [Or not is needed.]
And who would want to remove the brilliant redundancy from Raymond Carver’s short-story (and book) title “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?”
You get it. Redundancy depends.
So don’t take my list as gospel. To get the most out of it, read it in the spirit of fun in which it was conceived. If the silliness of phrases like armed gunman and boat marina tickles you, you have much to look forward to here. For me, redundancies like these rival Tom Swifties for entertainment value. (Tom Swifites, in case you missed out on them, are intentionally goofy double-whammy statements like “We just struck oil!” Tom gushed.)
Lucky for me—and lucky for you, too, if you also revel in the pleasure that results from encounters with foibled language—redundancies are everywhere.
If this list’s organizational scheme—alphabetical order within parts-of-speech groupings dotted with blatantly unalphabetical thematic or aurally pleasing subgroupings—strikes you as inconsistent, you’re right. When you notice apparent arbitrarinesses or missed opportunities in the arrangement of this list, look for an underlying reason. I mean, look for a reason. I’m not saying that I always had a reason, but hey, why not make a game of it? May your search for meaning, here as in your life, be its own reward.
Think of this list as a panoplous poem, an epic paean to pleonasm, not to be confused with neoplasm. Take turns savoring these lucious rhetorically tautological dainties—scratch lucious—aloud with friends as you sit around a campfire making s’mores, your voices clickety-clacking across the alliterations as you pass the sticky marshmallows. The marshmallows.
change over time; improve over time; increase over time; learn over time; remain relevant over time
choose as one of his picks; consciously choose
circle around; circulate around
classify into groups
collaborate with others
communicate with each other; compete with each other; equal to each other; integrate with each other; interact with each other; interdependent on each other; meet with each other; separate apart from each other
prepare ahead of time; prepare the future enterprise
prioritize in order of importance
proactively anticipate; proactively schedule; proactively solve problems before they occur
reelect for another term
recur again; repeat again; rethink again; review again
scrutinize in detail
self-analyze yourself; self-diagnose themselves
set clear expectations
share in common; share the same
spell out in detail
still continues; still persists; still remains
surround on all sides
take this, for example
think to oneself; in my head I’m thinking; picture this in your head
translate into another language
warn in advance; plan in advance; preview in advance; reserve in advance; schedule in advance
will do later
win a victory
wince in pain
Odds and Ends
6 a.m. in the morning; 10 p.m. in the evening; twelve noon; twelve midnight
all of the apples; off of the couch; outside of the circle
and etc.; also too; in addition you can also
any and all; each and every
ACT test; ATM machine; automatic ATM machine; BFF 4 evah; GOP party; GRE exam; HIV virus; ISBN number; JCR repository; LCD display; PCR reaction; PIN number; please RSVP; RAM memory; RAS syndrome (redundant-acronym-syndrome syndrome—look it up); UPC code
at a time when; during the course of; earlier time; later time; evolve over time; point in time; period of time; period of a few decades; time period; present time; since the time when; later this week; earlier this year; first of all; never before; now pending; always and forever
the reason why; the reason is because; the cause was due to
soon in the near future; sooner rather than later
throughout the entire; across the entire
whether or not
I know, I could have stopped after a few representative examples—I mean, after a few examples. If I had, though, think of the smiles you’d have missed. Besides, you’ve just sharpened your eye. The more you spot redundancies, the more you spot redundancies. And that’s no redundancy. But then, that goes without saying.
"Redundancy" by mike, used under Creative Commons license.
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