Inundating and Drowning

By Maeve Maddox

I heard a reporter on NPR refer to something that had been “inundated by water.” Looking online, I found this headline:

Family of Five Inundated by Water No Assistance Provided—Belize News

In each example, “by water” is redundant. As a transitive verb, inundate means “to overspread with a flood of water.” It does make sense to add a prepositional phrase if something other than water—or a specific kind of water— is doing the overflowing. For example,

Potatoes and sweet potatoes—when harvested conventionally—are inundated with pesticides at three levels.

The Neuse was not only inundated with urine and feces, but the nutrient loading from the spill caused an algal bloom of toxic Pfiesteria that caused a massive fish kill.
 
Following Hurricane Ike (Sept. 2008), significant forage and row crop acreage was inundated by saltwater for 12 to 240 hours.

For stylistic reasons, “by water” works in the following examples because the compound object of the preposition includes another substance:

The subways leading to Brooklyn are all inundated with water and floating debris. 

The streets and roads, which two days ago were inundated with water and mud, are now as dry as in summer.

When inundated is used figuratively to mean flooded or “filled with abundance,” then whatever is doing the flooding is identified. For example,

Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s office has been inundated with bibles following her decision to subpoena pastors’ sermons to check for anti-gay rhetoric.

British PM inundated by flooding criticism from leaders to the north [The criticism relates to flooded conditions in the north of England.]

Get ready to be inundated by tech ads

Officers say they are inundated with complaints from internet users complaining about online abuse being directed at them.

The following headline from Philly-dot-com combines the literal and figurative senses of inundate:

All’s Not Well In Dublin Bucks Borough Inundated By Water And Money Problems

Another word that usually incorporates water in its meaning is drown.

To drown is “to suffer death by submersion in water.” It is, of course, possible to drown in a liquid other than water. I watched a television drama in which someone drowned in a vat of molten chocolate.

In a literal sense, when a person drowns, death is understood to be the outcome. The use of “to death” in the following examples is redundant:

A mother and her 7 children drowned to death in illegal immigration trip from Turkey to Greece on November 29

TV actor Mohsin Khan drowned to death

The tiger star in Life Of Pi almost drowned to death during filming.

A boy drowned to death in the pool which lies in the basement of the school.

The verb drown can also be used in the context of covering something with water:

Some corn and soybean plants were drowned.

Drowned corn crops may hurt farmers, rest of nation

The crops in many fields of the neighborhood were drowned by the continuous rains.
 
To slow the German army, Flanders fields were drowned.

When people drown, they die. When fields are drowned, they are filled with water. When fields or streets are inundated, it’s almost always with water.

Note: The past form drowned is pronounced as one syllable (drownd).

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1 Response to “Inundating and Drowning”

  • venqax

    There are quite of few of these kinds of redundancies that come from an inadequate understanding of a word’s definition. Two that come to mind that I don’t see on many lists of such things are “Capitol building” and “cirrhosis of the liver”. A capitol, so spelled is a building where a legislature meets. “The Speaker’s office is in the state capitol”. An additional “building” is redundant. Cirrhosis can’t happen to anything but the liver. It is a liver pathology. Saying cirrhosis of the liver is like saying cardiac arrest of the heart. The liver’s already in there.

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