Let the Word Do the Work
When language-mutilator Yogi Berra said that something was “like ‘deja vu’ all over again,” everybody laughed. Lately I get the feeling that some people who say it don’t know it’s a joke.
Yogi’s “belts and suspenders” approach to words seems to be on the increase. We’ve all seen ads that offer “a free gift.” Sometimes it’s “an absolutely free gift.” It’s as if people don’t trust a word to mean what it means.
Some recent examples from the media include: “adequate enough,” “a navy sailor,” “an army soldier,” “coupled together with,” and “the maroon-colored Jaguar.”
Sometimes explanatory constructions are necessary in certain contexts. One can refer to a Mafia “soldier,” for example, but if the context is the evening news about the Iraq war, a listener can be trusted to understand the word without tacking on “army.”
Besides sounding foolish, the practice of bolstering a word with a a word that replicates its meaning weakens the expressiveness of the language.
Here are some redundant combinations I’ve heard or read lately in the media. The careful writer will avoid such nonsense.
- return back
- progress forward
- forests of trees
- other alternatives
- continue on
- evacuated out
- regress back
- penetrate through
- speeding too fast
- refinanced again
- a human person
- charred black
- a baby nursery
- reiterate again
- fast forward ahead
- socialize together
- two twin towers
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95 Responses to “Let the Word Do the Work”
Nicely put. This type of thing happens so often that I think we’ve become almost completely desensitized. It’s something that writers at all levels need to hear reiterated on occasion.
And now I’m going to be constantly checking and double-checking myself.
This one made me crack up laughing.
I heard some of those as well (hopefully I have not said them, can’t remember…).
Keeping the words or “small combination of words” accurate is very important. English can be very tricky language if not properly used. Some of the novels I read, had kind of words which were just not fit but then I guess the write was out of his vocab!!!
Another thing writers can be careful about is not to use “running language” in the novels unless it fit to the scenario. There are lot of places we even use them while blogging. Bad Practice!!
I agree with all the redundant combinations but ‘other alternatives’. Although I can see your point, I believe it’s not a so redundant combination like the others alternatives, hehehe.
Haha, I love getting free gifts! 🙂 I recently learned that there’s a term for these redundant expressions: pleonasm. Wikipedia has a whole page on it with some fascinating examples.
Perhaps ‘refinanced again’ could be correct, if the person had refinanced once before, and the aim of the sentence is to make the point that he/she is refinancing yet again, having already done that before.
So if the point that one is stressing is that the person is yet again refinancing, then I can see how that would work.
I agree with you on most of these, but there are plant nurseries, as well.
Great post, Maeve. I needed a laugh.
Actually, “army solider” is a phrase that is needed when talking about the war in Iraq, since there are also contract soliders and mercenary soliders there in large numbers.
Whilst I applaud the concept, some of the phrases you list aren’t actually redundant.
“Here is an alternative, and here are some more alternatives”
“Last year it was necessary to refinance my loans, this year I had to refinance again.”
“I have spelled it out for you twice now, let me reiterate again.”
“Some evenings my wife and I socialise together, other evenings we head our separate ways and socialise apart.”
Sorry, that first one should have been “Here is an alternative, and here are some other alternatives.”
What about “exactly equal.”
As not-English-spoken, your blog does great help to my writing.Already added to my fav.
Two twin towers are 4 towers maybe?
I’m not english, but “human person” ,”penetrate through” and “continue on” sound ok to me. Sometimes you need to stress things.
Penetrate through sounds less pornographic than simply “penetrate”. But maybe that’s me. 🙂
There has been a very interesting discussion of “repetitive redundancies” started at Freakonomics (at http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/2007/01/26/best-use-of-the-web-ever/) on the use of “pilotless drone” by the SF Chronicle.
Sandy june 22 2007 9.05 pm,
I agree with you mostly with all of them, but there is one that called my attention:
Human is: JUST BORN
Person is: when humans whith all their experiences in life involving their own temperament, turn all this into maturity.
In other words; it’s a process in life.
I live and learn, I live and get mature, I live and grow.
This is a fair comment that you are making here. However I have to wonder if ‘other alternatives’ is not as appropriate as the others. It may in fact refer to the third, fourth (etc.) alternatives making the adjective ‘other’ necessary and not extraneous as you have suggested above.
Yet, it is good to see social watchdogs on our language, which we tend to ‘basturdise’ with impunity. An interesting site. Cheers
“This one made me crack up laughing.”
I’m not english so I rely on Google for grammar and spelling tips. Does crack up on its own not imply you are laughing?
Your observation is correct.
“That cracked me up” has the sense of “That made me laugh uproariously.”
i like this redundancies section want to know more like the things by using or avoiding we can speak much better english and enrish vocabulary
Master every word is one of the best thing that I can imagine. But it’s very hard for. I don’t understand one thing, i can read english articles without difficulty, but i can’t write them perfectly. I don’t know why.
Can you give me some advice, sir?
Thank you very much
i want to know more about his website
Yeah I agree with you on most accounts!!!
But we also use a term “concrete forest” or “forest of buildings”!!!
Krishna Moorthy B
How to improve my knowledge with fluency of English. What I do for first step.
Krishna Moorthy B
I know little more to speak, write and read with english. But I hesitate to speak fluency that is why my problem.
Pl resolve this issue.
Krishna Moorthy B
Nowadays I am working in private organisation and I want to carry myself with bright future. But this only must to every body and I studied with tamil medium for my studies so that this problem. But English very important to my carrier, daily I am reading half on hour reading with Hindu but I don’t have understand the full message.
What is the real problem let me know pl.
Krishna Moorthy B
Most of the words I don’t understand and I am not in a position to recall every day, because of my work pressure is tied, daily I have to report to my office 9.30 am and closing time around 9.00 p.m.
I do not consider this follow up proceedures, In the mean time I think this is very important but I can not follow up to improve in english.
Pl guide me daily what I do for this course to improve?
I can’t Speak in enlish and i have try to speak and how can find our self i am speak is better…. please sir you have provide and advice me.. how can improve my self Speaking-Reading-Writing in english
i m hindi meadium student
Krishna Moorthy B:
How to improve my knowledge with fluency of English. What I do for first step.
You might try reading some short article on a subject (say, two or three paragraphs), making notes in your own language what it’s about, and then (after you’ve forgotten the exact text) try to write the article yourself, using your notes. Then compare what you wrote to the original.
Most of the words I don’t understand and I am not in a position to recall every day, because of my work pressure is tied
in my hometown we have ….orphanage home…ha ha….
I enjoyed this article. Word choice is important. When speaking, I tend to use 50 dollar works too often. I have begun, in my writing, to remember the Army adage, KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid. If my writing becomes complex, readers will stop reading.
I consently agree with completely everything in the article.
I’ve seen ‘progress forward’ quite a bit, actually. I remember being a bit redundant myself early on. I was rereading some of my work from when I was young — well, younger, maybe eight or nine — the whole thing was pretty silly, but one thing that stuck out was that I dropped phrases like “small little” all the time.
Fortunately, my poor handwriting had made the repetition harder to read.
Re-anything again (e.g., reread the book again), which means doing something for, at least, the third time, not the second not. Example: First you read. Then you reread. Then you reread again.
How about “You read.” “You reread.” “You go over it for a third time.”
Bravo! I discovered your Daily Writing Tips for the first time this evening and this post was a perfect link for today’s post at How2HQ. I’ll be back. Looks like lots of meaty reading here.
I’d love to send the link to some of my favorite tv anchors.
My favourite is: ‘very unique’, an expression I hear regularly though thankfully not often, on television. It has many variations: ‘totally unique’, ‘most ‘unique’… to name a few.
it really made me laugh and these mistakes are commonly committed by people but atleast writers and media must be careful…and there are two things i want to share that is..forests can a combination of trees and crops…and plants do have nurseries.
Baby Nursery as opposed to the green thumb type?
nice combination indeed…
I wish every student could see this..=)
I have come across many people using “So, therefore”. I am not comfortable. What would you say ?
Excuses Recieved By Teachers
These are actual excuse notes teachers have received; spelling mistakes included.
“My son is under a doctor’s care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.”
“Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.”
“Dear School: Please ekscuse John being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.”
“Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.”
“Please excuse Roland from P.E. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.”
“John has been absent because he had two teeth taken out of his face.”
“Carlos was absent yesterday because he was playing football. He was hurt in the growing part.”
“Megan could not come to school today because she has been bothered by very close veins.”
“Chris will not be in school cus he has an acre in his side.”
“Please excuse Ray Friday from school. He has very loose vowels.”
“Please excuse Tommy for being absent yesterday. He had diarrhea and his boots leak.”
“Irving was absent yesterday because he missed his bust.”
“Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.”
“I kept Billie home because she had to go Christmas shopping because I don’t know what size she wear.”
“Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.”
“Sally won’t be in school a week from Friday. We have to attend her funeral.”
“My daughter was absent yesterday because she was tired. She spent a weekend with the Marines.”
“Please excuse Jason for being absent yesterday. He had a cold and could not breed well.”
“Please excuse Mary for being absent yesterday. She was in bed with gramps.”
“Please excuse Burma, she has been sick and under the doctor.”
ALL soldiers are in the Army.
In the U.S the Army has soldiers, the Air Force has Airmen, while the Navy has Sailors, and the Marine Corps has Marines.
My problem is writing,when i try to write something my mind go blank. But when i read anyone writing i think i can write better then that. So,my question is how can i improve my writing?Specially,Email or letter.
How about “free gratis” or “exactly the same”?
is it alright to say “why because” ?
Let’s not forget “past history”.
I venture to add that “Army soldier” and Navy sailor” at least in their use in news reporting, are not redundant. Each adds information, namely that the subject of the news is (was) not an officer.
Here is my support: I have noticed that news having an Army officer as its subject almost always refers to the person as an “Army officer,” or “Army Lieutenant,” etc. In contrast, news having Army enlisted personnel as the subject almost always refers to the personnel as “soldiers.”
Also, if a person states to you that he/she was “an Army soldier” it is almost certain that he/she was an enlisted person.
The same goes for the Navy; how many times has anyone heard a Navy officer say that he/she is a “sailor?”
T E Mills
At work people’s favorites are “already weighed up” and “already scanned”.
My father was a great sailor sailing all the great oceans and often times coming back with fish the fishermen left behind. No, my father wasn’t in the navy. He was a banker who enjoyed sailing the oceans during his vacation time.
We had our sailors stationed at every corner of our ocean’s borders when this world war broke out last night in our area of the world.
These might be very bad examples but if someone were to say, our ocean’s borders are protected by sailors one might instantly think we are all going to die…
But if you say, “don’t fret my pet all our ocean’s borders are being protect by Navy Sailors” then I would still worry but not nearly as bad as if someone just said sailors.
Sorry would that be someone or somebody?
English sucks. It is by far the worst one to learn out of them all.
Nigel Pennington’s example: “I have spelled it out for you twice now, let me reiterate again.”
This can’t be acceptable. It’s poor. Iterate and reiterate mean the same thing, perhaps the latter suggesting the iteration already occurred.
Thus, you’ve “spelled it out for me twice, you only need to reiterate.”
It seems that when people talk about redundancy in words (and try to justify it), they forget that context is important. For example: a Navy sailor. It’s redundant. If you’re talking about the Navy, “sailor” is sufficient. If the context is about some other type of sailor, then it would be redundant to constantly specify. Generally, words like “sailor” and “soldier” have certain understood meanings within the context.
**It is only when you begin to talk about something that isn’t related to the previously understood meaning that you should specify.**
Example: A book about plants which mentions a nursery will automatically be referring to a plant nursery, but it must specify a baby nursery if it begins suggesting a type of plant or flower that could be placed there.
A very nice compilation of avoidable phrases. I have always been avoiding such phrases, and used to get irritated when I come across such usages, for example, ‘return back’ retaliated back’ etc. But lately, I started ignoring them because some of the blog-posts that contain all types mistakes rank very high on Google SERPs. I think Google’s algorithms treat posts with more mistakes as ‘original content’. Look around some of the new blogs with PR 4 and more, and you may start thinking on these lines, especially after Google’s latest update of algorithms to rank down ‘content farms’, though Goggle did not use the same term.
Alicia: Agree about navy sailor. While army soldier, AF airman and marine marine (?) are redundant, not all sailors are in the navy. In fact, the navy itself now officially uses the term “seaman” to make that very distinction. However, it is most often obvious from context whether the sailors in question are military or Gilligan.
Capitol building is one that gets my attention. A capitol, with an O, IS a building.
“‘Circle around’ the Capitol building” is compounding the issue, but maybe it’s an algebraic idea: 2 redundancies cancel out and make dundancy again.
“Visually see” bothers me, too. (Actually, I think it’s so silly it’s funny.)
redundancy in spoken language is a common occurance by many speakers these days…it is pertinant though that repetitions are highlighted and corrected. Here in Fiji schools i as a teacher of English have on numerous occasions noticed students using redundacy…. the fact remain if we are able to correct the speaker so that it is avoided…. the list of repetitions are endless…
I would caution everyone to beware of such lists and the blanket prohibitions against using the terms in them. Far too often there are good reasons to use the so-called “redundant combination”, many of which have been pointed out by other commenters. For example, surely you aren’t recommending “I continued the road to Asheville” instead of “continued on”? “Continue” and “continue on” mean very different things.
The advice should be to always be careful with what you write. Of course, that’s vague and harder to follow than “don’t use these phrases”.
Your example of the use of “continue on” in the sentence “I continued on the road to Asheville” misses the point being made against the redundant verb phrase “continue on.”
In your example, the verb is “continue.” The “on” is a preposition introducing the phrase “on the road to Asheville.” With all respect, I don’t think that my recommendation against using the verb phrase “continue on” is invalidated by the fact that the verb “continue” may occur in a sentence containing a prepositional phrase beginning with “on.” In such a case, the two words are not part of the same phrase.
Hey, I hear this too often from journalists who should know better: safe haven. D’oh!
There is one particular phrase that makes me rage every time I see or hear it (and this is very often). Most politicians here in Quebec/Canada use it frequently, and so do the media.
“Our/my/his/etc. first priority”
A priority is the thing/action/whatever that’s the most important to someone. If it’s your priority, then it IS the first, there is absolutely no doubt about it. Of course, I understand one can have a list of priorities, but if you talk about your single priority, it’s automatically the one that’s on the top of your list.
Am I the only one who finds this horrible?
The example of “evacuated out” is interesting. Not only is it redundant in the sense that something is not evacuated in, but most often it is the result of a misuse of the word “evacuate” entirely. E.g., “Forty people were evacuated out of the stadium” is wrong on two levels– the “out” is redundant AND the people were not evacuated at all (we hope). The stadium was.
Extremely insightful for wannabe writers!
Looking forward to further tips!
I feel like the last one, “two twin tower” can be correct in some context. For example: it can have a meaning like two towers that are twin — meaning, there are in fact 4 towers, two in one place as twin and another two in another place in the neighborhood.
I think some of yas are missing the point. Yes, an example could be found for most, if not all, of these that illustrates how it can actually make sense… but we’re talking about economy of language here, right? Maximizing impact?
“Penetrate the darkness” hits harder than “penetrate through the darkness”… don’t you think?
Why would “maroon-colored Jaguar,” be redundant? Surely the vehicle comes in a variety of colors?
Because maroon IS a color. What else could that possibly mean? The maroon-sized Jaguar? The maroon-flavored Jaguar? The maroon Jaguar says all that needs be said.
It would be similarly redundant to say, “The chocolate-flavored ice cream cone”. Altho, actually that could most often be not just redundant but downright wrong because, statistically speaking, it is more likely the ice cream that is chocolate, not the cone. My, how complex this becomes.
Whoever first used the idiotic expression “free gift” should be sentenced to 10 years of cleaning animal shelters – daily. Whoever uses it now should not be allowed to write anything, except maybe checks. I find it a tad annoying.
Human person: Humans are persons from the moment of conception. We cannot be anything else. We don’t say human people, do we? But we do see ‘human being’ written quite often, to emphasise that as human beings we must respect our uniqueness and that human life is sacred.
Agreed, human person is redundant. Human being, not so much and it is an old “stock phrase”. While all humans are beings, I suppose you could say that all beings are not human. Depends on what your meaning of being is being.
I dislike it when people use “the reason why.” There is not a “reason how.” A reason is a why.
C.v.s Jetty asked if it were acceptable to say “why because.” I can’t figure out what that is supposed to mean–because is an answer to why.
I’ve never seen anyone use “human person” and I can’t imagine why someone would. I’ve never seen anyone differentiate “human” and “person” by proximity to birth as in Sandy’s comment. You are a person all your life and a human all your life.
Oops, sorry to post twice in a row. I forgot another redundency that is ubiquitous, and that is, “each and every one of you.” Each of you means all. Every one means all. The same thing is true of “each and all of you,” which I don’t see used as much. These are overused, lazy ways to address a group of people.
Revert back is also overuesed.
One I’m not sure about is over and over vs. over and over again.
I always leave out the again….is there a correct way or both are acceptable?
Over and over again is fine. You are saying something repeats, then repearts again, so as long as threepeat isn’t really a word you’re okay. Also, remember some things (not all, by any means) that are technically redundant are actually idioms in English that have taken on an acceptable quality of their own. I think, “each and every one” probably falls into that category. Like itsy bitsy, or teeny tiny. But I would agree things like revert back, added bonus, each and all, free gift, capitol building, are not acceptable. Likewise qualified absolutes like more or less unique, more complete, less perfect are to be condemned.
Dale A. Wood
“safe haven” is an idiomatic phrase that has been around for centuries, so there is no good in arguing against it now. Some things in English just have to be accepted as they are.
Dale A. Wood
I agree that “human being” is also an idiomatic phrase in English that just has to be accepted, and there is no use arguing against it.
Sorry, but some people are just unaware of idiomatic phrases, but it is important to recognize them when we see them.
Also, “human being” (the real thing) contrasts with other phrases such as “human form”, “human likeness”, “human appearance”, all of which are not the real thing.
Dale A. Wood
In legal language, a “human person” contrasts with a “corporate person”. This is because in English, American, and Canadian law, a corporation is a “corporate person” in several aspects:
1. A corporation can be taxed
2. A corporation can be fined by the government
3. A corporate person can be executed for breaking the law. In this case, the corporation is abolished by the government.
4. A corporation has some of the rights of a human person, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom to assemble peaceably.
5. Furthermore, a “corporate person” can own property, and it can buy or sell property.
On the other hand a “corporate person” cannot be put into prison, and there are certain other things that a “human person” can do that a “corporate person” cannot do.
A “human person” might also be referred to as a “real person”. In either case, there are legal similarities and differences between the different kinds of persons, and that is all that I have to say about the matter because I and not a lawyer, but an engineer.
Dale A. Wood
Concerning: “the reason why.”
Once again, this is an idiomatic phrase that has been used in English for centuries, and it is something to be accepted and understood, and not argued about.
“Theirs was not to reason why;
Theirs was just to do and die.”
Dale A. Wood
“Evacuate out of” and “evacuate from” are perfectly-reasonable phrases in English, and there is nothing wrong with them. Consider these phrases from science:
1. The air was evacuated out of the bottle.
2. Almost all of the carbon dioxide had been evacuated from the flask.
I do not think that these phrases are limited to scientific uses.
Also if you wish, you can ascribe these phrases as idiomatic ones.
I just know that they have been in use for at least 200 years, so they are not foolish neologisms.
Dale A. Wood
When the word “sailor” is used, the default value of the word should be “a sailor of the navy”.
Then in various counrtries there are also these:
1. Sailors in the coast guard
2. Sailors in the merchant marine
3. Sailors who are civilians who travel the seas and oceans.
Many U.S. Navy officers are sailors, and they are proud to use that title. It is true that there are other Naval officers who are aviators, submariners, logistics experts, physicians, surgeons, dentists, optometrists, attorneys, construction engineers, SEALs, etc. Some other navies might not have so many different kinds because the U.S. Navy is the largest navy in the world – and some countries have unified defense forces, such as Germany and Canada, and thus a lot of the support corps are combined.
The word “Seaman” indicates a rank and a pay grade in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard – for enlisted men. Officers are not seamen.
Also, don’t get confused or upset: seaman, airman, hospitalman, militrary policeman, air policeman, and enlisted man all cover females as well as males (and halfway in between). The “man” is short for “human being”.
A “machinist’s mate” or an “aviation machinist’s mate” can be either male or female in the modern Navy and Coast Guard.
Dale A. Wood
I agree that ““each and every” is an idiomatic phrase that has been around since Hector was a pup, and thus is is not something to be argued against, but rather an idiom to be understood and appreciated.
“Since Hector was a pup,” means for a very long time, and it is also an idiomatic phrase that comes from Homer’s tales of the Trojan War – the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The phrase “each and every” contains the element of redundancy that was put in there for clariy and emphasis.
“A new beginning”. I cringe when I come across that expression. Isn’t every beginning new? And how about “very unique”? I’m sure people would say that it adds emphasis but to me it seems like something a lazy high-schooler would use to beef up his word count. [Ducks dictionaries and thesauruses hurled by high-schoolers …]
Or how about when people say “9 am in the morning”. AM is short for ante meridian, which means roughly before noon when the sun is at its meridian, with PM being short for post-meridian (after noon). Therefore, “9 am in the morning” is redundancy at its finest.
And there I am again with run-on sentences!
I agree that a baby nursery is a redundancy. Maybe we should rely on the context of a sentence and not assume that people might think we’re talking about acres of plants for sale when we write on Facebook; “fixed up the nursery today – so excited about this new crib!”
There is a tendency to over-explain everything nowadays (aka “dumb it down”). When I’m reading a book if I don’t understand a word I look it up – and I actually get annoyed with fiction writers that put copious footnotes/endnotes into their work. Unless you’re writing VCE study guides or the like, I don’t think it’s necessary. This I’ve noticed occurs quite a lot in the glut of Pride & Prejudice fanfiction available for sale and it can spoil the story for me. Maybe the authors do it so that people don’t have to feel embarrassed about asking – or maybe they do it just to show off how learned they are.
“It would be similarly redundant to say, “The chocolate-flavored ice cream cone”. ”
Unless, of course, the ice cream is chocolate flavoured by chemical means rather than having any actual chocolate in it.
How would that be different? Something flavored with a synthetic imitation of chocolate would still be “chocolate flavored”. That phrase in and of itself doesn’t convey whether the source of the flavoring is natural or artificial. If the cone were actually made of chocolate</i., e.g. your standard chocolate Easter bunny, it would be even "more" redundant because you'd be talking about chocolate flavored chocolate, I guess…
My favorite example of redundancy: “At this point in time.”
In certain contexts, some of these so-called redundancies would be necessary to distinguish between two types of things. For example, if the context of the sentence didn’t make it clear, “nursery” might be mistaken for a plant nursery rather than a baby nursery. Likewise, referring to “Army soldiers” would allow you to distinguish them from mercenary soldiers.
Belated I would like to speak up in favor of “army soldier”: the text might be read by someone who is not familiar with the structure and naming in the US troops.
I absolutely agree that readers are much more clever than many think (after all, aren’t we readers? 😉 ) but please keep in mind that not every reader even comes from your own culture and that those who do might not have the same background knowledge.
Also: idioms. Love those little bastards. Don’t kill them just to make language “logical”. Unless you are Gandalf.
Have you dealt with lecterns and podiums (podia?)?
Why do presumably well educated news announcers continue to identify lecterns as podiums? The word “podium” itself should be a sufficient clue that its something upon which one stands
When two words having the same meaning is used it is called tautology.
Which is the proper term to use: Son-in-laws or Sons-in-law?
Speakers don’t agree on this one, so you will hear and see both. The Chicago Manual of Style leaves some to “common sense” and the entry in OED does not show a plural form.
For American speakers, Merriam-Webster takes a stand with “sons-in-law.”
You may find this post of use: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/compound-plurals/
A redundancy I see often in my students’ writing: “the reason why is,” and worse: “the reason why is because.”