Catch Those Repetitious Redundancies and Pleonasms

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Hello there. How are you today? Are you ready to test out your redundancy eye?

You might ask, “Why should I care about redundancies?”

Before we begin, I’ll answer that question.

Redundancies are superfluous words or phrases also known as pleonasms: the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.

Pleonasm is an unfamiliar term to some people, which is why I and other writers often refer to unnecessary words as redundancies.

Rather than augment writing, these extra words slow down action scenes and increase word count — without adding helpful details.

Did you notice the strikeouts in the previous paragraphs? Each strikeout represents a redundancy. If I were intentionally bloating this post, I might leave them in. However, they’re just useless padding.

Oh, wait. I guess I did leave them in, and that means they still count as words. Oops, sorry, Anne, I needed them to illustrate my point.

A Few Words About the Quiz

Below you’ll find fourteen sentences that contain redundancies, and fourteen suggested solutions. They’re revised examples from books, news, social media, television shows, and conversations.

Scrutinize the examples and try to find the pleonasms. Will you score 100%?

Welcome to the Promenade of Useless Redundancies

  1. The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.
  2. The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.
  3. If the pump doesn’t perform as expected, you’ll be eligible for a full refund of the money that you paid for it.
  4. They couldn’t have been more different. They were total polar opposites.
  5. A hunter picked up the lion’s scent spoor and tracks fortuitously by accident.
  6. The writer tried various different phrases, but none of them seemed to fit the context.
  7. The most quintessential obsession of Pauline’s existence was the consumption of coffee, coffee, COFFEE.
  8. The new scanner reads UPC codes much faster than the old one.
  9. The toddler threw a noisy temper tantrum when his mother took away the toy.
  10. They had reached a critical juncture — which of the options should they choose?
  11. They didn’t have the same resources now that they used to have before.
  12. Just to be on the safe side, Bryan decided to cram a medical kit into his bulging knapsack.
  13. We need more information about exactly what that means.
  14. The both of them knew that they were in for a severe trouncing.

Suggested Edits

Edit #1:

The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.

community: a group of people who live in the same place or share particular characteristics

diverse: many different types of people or things

Note how the definitions embrace the meanings of the deleted words.

Alternative edit: The village was home to many people with diverse talents.

Choose the connotation that matches your storyline.

Edit #2:

The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.

obliterate: make invisible by obscuring

If something is invisible, can it be partially invisible? If not, we don’t need to mention that it’s entirely invisible.

When readers visualize the sun obliterated by thick clouds, they’ll imagine a dark sky. We don’t need to mention the darkness.

Other phrases to beware:

  • entirely by chance
  • entirely decimated
  • entirely inappropriate
  • entirely natural
  • entirely surrounded
  • entirely [fill in the blank]

Whenever you encounter entirely or one of its synonyms, question its necessity.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

9 thoughts on “Catch Those Repetitious Redundancies and Pleonasms”

  1. I can’t agree with this. Judy Garland had a simple rejoinder:

    Days can be sunny, with never a sigh
    Don’t need what money can buy
    Birds in the trees sing their day full of song
    Why shouldn’t we sing along?

    I’m chipper all the day, happy with my lot
    How do I get that way, look at what I’ve got

    I got rhythm, I got music
    I got my man, who could ask for anything more

    My point: Words aren’t just for minimal communication of meaning. Poetry is just a particularly obvious example, but rhythm matters, too (I can ask for more, more, MORE). Sometimes, too, what seems redundant communicates flavors so that striking out redundancies also strikes out meaning. To pick on one of Ms Allen’s examples, “diverse talents” and “many diverse talents” imply different scopes of diversity, even perhaps different dimensions of diversity. Three is enough for “diverse talents,” such as “pianist, drummer, violinist,” but they’re all Western musical instruments…

    And we won’t get started on improper removal of disfavored “helping verbs” that also fix statements in time, and provide critical entry points for ESL readers.

    • I quite agree. Rhetoric is far more important than mere editorial avoidance of redundancy. “There was nothing he could do, nothing he could try. Nothing at all.” (Repetition is a great way of hammering a point home.)

      Narrative writing is the telling of a story, and no one tells a tale without rhythm, gestures, repetitions, allusions, and cultural common phrases. The originality and uniqueness of the words is entirely beside the point.

      And when you make “common parlance” quotes (“over and done”, “the whole nine yards”, “round and round the mulberry bush”), you are evoking cultures, ways of speech, rhythms, character backgrounds, striking (even if worn) images, and more. Simplifying or replacing such linguistic figures in order to remove pleonasms removes a whole level of context from the writing, in the service of what? A head nod from someone who isn’t moved by rhetoric?

  2. Most, if not all, of these prescriptive mandates neglect the obvious: real world people don’t speak perfect grammar and going “too perfect” results in stilted, jarring prose. There is a big difference between textbook english and real world english. It’s like the software grammar checkers. The output is barely useful for corporate or technical documents but not for mass consumption. Feed them some of the best, most evocative prose you can find and they’ll promotly neuter it. And there are so many different ways of being brilliant at prose that it is doubtful even (so-called) AI can match a good writer. Narrative voice is meant to be personal and flawed, by academic standards.
    That those “excess” words and “improper” structures exist at all is proof they serve a purpose. Like “ain’t”.

    What budding wordsmiths need is guidance in how to properly use the “improper” not blanket condemnations and mandates.

    Just one example, edit 1 in the OP:

    “The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents. ”

    Where the OP sees redundancy one might see clarification: a community of people who each have many diverse talents; polymaths, for example. The redundancy only exists if you see people as interchangeable, lowest-common-denominator non-entities. More, in the real world true drones are actually rare. Most people are complicated and do have multiple talents. Unexploited, perhaps, but they do have them.

    • “Perfect grammer” isn’t really the point. Speech communities (dialects, if they’re different enough) are complete orderly languages, properly grammatic within their context, and always evolving.

      The formal written version of the common language (which is usually initially codified based on the literary writing of a high-status national author) is an artificial language with its own grammar and preferred rhetorical effects, and it varies in small or large ways from the speech communities for what we call the same language.

      All these prescriptive advice columns are directed to the formal written version, as if that were the only one that exists, as if it were a natural living language and appropriate for all uses.

      Now, it is in the interests of all students in a nation to learn how to read and produce the formal written language in school, since it is needed for work, a useful marker of status, and generally an important tool. But it is only in a certain segment of society that those of a certain educational background have convinced themselves that their mastery of the formal written language is ALSO their daily living language. They may formalize their written communications (emails, etc.) but the moment they want to be humorous (for example) they revert to their speech habits instead for local color, and those are NOT governed by the same considerations.

      • We won’t delve into the “speech communities” across the Atlantic, either. One wonders how the OP would treat questions of verb-subject agreement for collective nouns, and the cascade of effects in appropriate references made when “the company is” becomes “the company are”… because some of those effects create more “redundancies.”

        One doesn’t even need to cross the Pond. Just look at a commercial publishing contract and ponder whether making something into a shorthand reference makes articles redundant. “Publisher shall register copyright in the Work in the name of Author…” OK, that’s legal language, which is anything but a “daily living language”{note}… and that’s rather my point: Living language is, by definition, filled with redundancies, such as articles. Russian, for example, largely gets along without them; most European languages use them primarily as gender indicators rather than for numerosity; and so on.

        I’d sarcastically say something about how “multiculturalism is relevant even to purportedly objective conversations about grammar,” but that gets into the cultural imperialism of MrsGrundyism. At least the OP wasn’t extolling the virtues of the Dictionary Police (although I suspect that’s not far off).

        {note} If you need any proof of this, ponder that Microsoft Office is positively hostile to legal writing. There’s no option to choose an accepted legal framework for citations (but one can choose multiple editions of APA style), and there’s no way to massage the built-in grammar checker to do anything but throw up all over one’s shoes with either inline citations or word counts. Maybe there are family dynamics here — Bill’s grandfather and father were both high-powered, high-visibility lawyers and he… isn’t.

  3. Much questionable writing advice makes more sense when you realize that it originates from professors faced with grading undergraduate term papers. Often the advice is appropriate for that genre. The trouble is that many people have trouble with abstract ideas such as “That this is good advice for one particular genre does not necessarily mean it is good advice universally.” This post is merely a prolix version of Strunk’s “Omit needless words.” While it is true that this advice can improve certain sorts of bad writing, it also unimproves other sorts of good writing.

    • Richard’s point is a good one. It also applies to advice about “how to get ahead in publishing”: It’s almost entirely from the perspective of “nonexperimental narrative” at most and more often “fiction,” neither of which is, umm, the majority of publishing measured by units sold, titles published, or revenues. “Getting a book published successfully” is rather different for the person grading those undergraduate term papers… and even when the undergraduate term paper is in history or English lit/creative writing, let alone a scientific field. Even the contracts aren’t comparable!

  4. I like AutoCrit because it lists redundancies. I don’t like it telling me how to resolve them, remove them, or otherwise deal with them – that’s my job. I’m the human.

    Ditto for AC’s many other functions: I love that it counts adverbs or dialogue tags – but not that it tells me what it thinks I should do with them. Plus, even in counting it’s often wrong.

    But counting is boring, and, yes, I shouldn’t probably have that many ‘that’s’ in a scene, so it helps to spot them and let me evaluate which ones I will consider changing to tighten the writing. It would take me a lot longer to do it myself.

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