Let the Word Do the Work

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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
  • added bonus
  • end result
  • new innovation
  • very unique

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95 thoughts on “Let the Word Do the Work”

  1. 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.

  2. This one made me crack up laughing.

    I heard some of those as well (hopefully I have not said them, can’t remember…).

  3. 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!!

  4. 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.

  5. Haha, I love getting free gifts! πŸ™‚ I recently learned that there’s a term for these redundant expressions: pleonasm. Wikipedia has a whole page on it with some fascinating examples.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.”

  9. Sorry, that first one should have been “Here is an alternative, and here are some other alternatives.”

  10. 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. πŸ™‚

  11. There has been a very interesting discussion of “repetitive redundancies” started at Freakonomics (at on the use of “pilotless drone” by the SF Chronicle.

  12. 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 person
    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.

  13. 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

  14. Joy-Mari,
    Your observation is correct.

    “That cracked me up” has the sense of “That made me laugh uproariously.”

  15. 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

  16. 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

  17. Yeah I agree with you on most accounts!!!
    But we also use a term “concrete forest” or “forest of buildings”!!!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

  21. Dear sir,

    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

  22. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. Active Movement

    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.

    Skim quickly.

    Scan carefully.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.


  28. 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.

  29. have fun:
    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.”

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

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