Word Wise: The Annals of Redundancy Annals

letter_03_mf-invite-annalsEver 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:

annals of redundancy annals -inside“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.

Redundancy. Unhelpful repetition. 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.

 

 Examples

The examples listed below come from things I’ve read and heard (and said and written). Many come from these sources:

The alphabetical order serves no purpose other than to create alliteration. Think of this list as a poem—one worth reading. Aloud.

Adjectives

  • absolutely certain, absolutely essential, absolutely guaranteed, completely necessary, totally sure
  • bald-headed
  • best ever, first ever
  • blue in color, few in number, long in duration, nubbly in texture, round in shape, slovenly in appearance, short in height, slow in speed, small in size, tall in stature
  • exact same, same exact, same identical
  • filled to capacity
  • incredible to believe, visible to the eye, warm to the touch

Nouns

  • actual experience, actual fact
  • added bonus
  • advance notice, advance planning, advance preview, advance reservations, advance warning
  • all-time favorite, all-time record
  • alternative choice
  • anonymous stranger
  • annual anniversary
  • armed gunman
  • artificial prosthesis
  • autobiography of her own life, biography of his life
  • balsa wood
  • basic essentials, basic fundamentals, basic necessities
  • big kahuna
  • boat marina
  • bouquet of flowers
  • brief respite, brief summary
  • burning embers
  • cacophony of sound
  • cameo appearance
  • careful scrutiny
  • cash money
  • classification scheme comprising categories—better yet, hierarchical classification scheme comprising categories and subcategories
  • close proximity, close scrutiny
  • closed fist
  • component parts
  • consensus of opinion
  • crisis situation, emergency situation
  • current incumbent, current trend, current-state baseline
  • definite decision
  • desirable benefits
  • direct confrontation
  • diverse characters
  • end result
  • equal halves
  • face mask
  • false pretense
  • fast speed
  • favorable approval
  • fellow classmate, fellow colleague
  • final conclusion, final ending, final outcome, final ultimatum
  • foreign imports
  • former graduate, former veteran, seasoned veteran
  • foundational starting point
  • free gift
  • frozen ice, frozen tundra
  • full satisfaction
  • future forecast, future plans, future goals, future recurrence
  • general consensus, general public
  • good cheer
  • green grass, blue sky, white snow
  • handy tips
  • harmful injuries
  • head honcho
  • hollow tube
  • illustrated drawing
  • invited guests
  • joint collaboration
  • knowledgeable experts
  • little baby
  • live studio audience, live witness
  • local residents
  • major breakthrough
  • mental telepathy
  • minestrone soup, pizza pie, tuna fish
  • mutual advantage of both, mutual cooperation, mutual interdependence, mutual respect for each other
  • nape of the neck, palm of the hand, sole of the foot
  • native habitat
  • natural instinct
  • new beginning, new construction, new innovation, new invention, new recruit, new news
  • none at all
  • nostalgia for the past
  • number-one leader
  • old adage, old classic, old custom, old proverb, old cliché
  • open trench
  • oral conversation
  • pair of twins
  • passing fad
  • past history, past memory, past record
  • personal friend, personal favorite, for me personally
  • preestablished rules, preplanned activity, prerecorded music
  • polar opposites
  • poisonous venom
  • positive identification
  • previous experience
  • private industry
  • proposed plan
  • regular routine
  • required requirements
  • safe haven, safe sanctuary
  • sand dune
  • several different kinds
  • serious crisis, serious danger
  • sharp point
  • short hop
  • single unit
  • sneak peek
  • specific area of knowledge, specified specifications
  • state of confusion
  • sudden explosion, sudden impulse
  • sum total
  • temper tantrum
  • temporary reprieve
  • therapeutic treatment
  • three separate buildings
  • three-way love triangle
  • tired cliché
  • true fact
  • ultimate goal
  • undergraduate student
  • underground subway
  • unexpected surprise
  • unintentional mistake
  • universal panacea
  • unfilled vacancy
  • usual custom
  • vast sweep
  • visual diagram
  • vocabulary of terms
  • wall mural
  • weather conditions
  • timpani drums

Verbs

  • add an additional
  • aid and abet, cease and desist, pick and choose
  • allow you to be able to
  • always include
  • ask the question
  • assemble together, attach together, blend together, collaborate together, combine together, confer together, connect together, cooperate together, fuse together, gather together, join together, integrate together, meet together, merge together, mingle together, mix together, pool together, share together, splice together
  • classify into groups
  • choose as one of his picks, consciously choose
  • 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
  • commute back and forth, vacillate back and forth
  • completely annihilate, completely destroy, completely eliminate, completely engulf, completely eradicate, completely fill, completely surround, completely alike, completely finished, absolutely full, totally opposite, eliminate altogether
  • continue with the ongoing analysis
  • could possibly
  • depreciate in value
  • did before, did earlier, had done previously
  • disappear from sight
  • estimate at roughly
  • extradite back, refer back, reflect back, regress back, reply back, retreat back, return back, revert back
  • first begun, first conceived
  • fly through the air
  • frequented on a regular basis
  • grow in size
  • indict on a charge
  • introduce a new, introduce for the first time
  • look ahead to the future, look back to the past
  • maintain constantly
  • originally created
  • overexaggerate
  • pause for a moment
  • perceive a noticeable impact
  • plan ahead, proceed ahead, ascend up, connect up, heat up, hoist up, hurry up, lift up, open up, raise up, rise up, descend down, dwindle down, fall down, kneel down, write down, circle around, circulate around, follow after, pursue after, lag behind, skip over, protest against, enter in, penetrate into, input into, output out of
  • postpone until later
  • pouring down rain
  • preboard, preestablish, preheat, prerecord
  • reelect for another term
  • recur again, repeat again, rethink again
  • scrutinize in detail
  • self-analyze yourself
  • share in common
  • spell out in detail
  • still continues, still persists, still remains
  • surround on all sides
  • warn in advance, plan in advance, preview in advance, reserve in advance
  • will do later

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.
  • ATM machine, GOP party, GRE exam, HIV virus, ISBN number, LCD display, PIN number, RAM memory, UPC code—and my favorite: Please RSVP
  • at a time when, during the course of, earlier time, later time, evolve over time, point in time, period of time, time period, present time, since the time when, first of all, never before, now pending
  • first and foremost
  • from whence
  • having said that
  • modern citizens of today
  • many theories abound
  • number #5
  • outside in the yard
  • previously noted above
  • reason why, reason is because, the cause was due to
  • single greatest
  • test score on the exam
  • throughout the entire
  • whether or not

Conclusion

Did you read the whole list? I know, I could have stopped after a few representative examples … I mean, after a few examples. But 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.

Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia has run a tech-writing business for ... a long time. The author of "Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)," she taught tech writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program. For more, see howtowriteeverything.com.

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