Let the Word Do the Work

By Maeve Maddox

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”

  • Jennifer

    A redundancy I see often in my students’ writing: “the reason why is,” and worse: “the reason why is because.”

  • Maeve

    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/

  • Gary

    Which is the proper term to use: Son-in-laws or Sons-in-law?

  • P.Shyamkishor

    When two words having the same meaning is used it is called tautology.

  • Jerry Ketcherside

    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

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