‘Close’ Proximity, ‘End’ Result, and More Redundant Words to Delete from Your Writing

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From Medium:

There’s a lot of deleting in copyediting, not just of the “very”s and “rather”s and “quite”s and excrescent “that”s with which we all encase our prose like so much Bubble Wrap and packing peanuts, but of restatements of information — “as estab’d,” one politely jots in the margin.

Much repetition, though, comes under the more elementary heading of Two Words Where One Will Do, and here’s a collection of easily disposed of redundancies. Some of these may strike you as obvious — though their obviousness doesn’t stop them from showing up constantly. Others are a little more arcane — the sorts of things you could likely get away with without anyone’s noticing — but they’re snippable nonetheless.

In either case, for those moments when you’re contemplating that either you or your prose could stand to go on a diet and your prose seems the easier target, here’s a good place to start.

(The bits in italics are the bits you can dispose of.)

  • ABM missile
    ABM = anti-ballistic missile.
  • absolutely certain, absolute certainty, absolutely essential
  • added bonus
  • advance planning, advance warning
  • all-time record
    As well, one doesn’t set a “new record.” One merely sets a record.

. . . .

  • exact same 
    To be sure, “exact same” is redundant. To be sure, I still say it and write it.
  • fall down
    What are you going to do, fall up?
  • fellow countryman
  • fetch back 
    To fetch something is not merely to go get it but to go get it and return with it to the starting place. Ask a dog.
  • few in number
  • fiction novel 
    Appalling. A novel is a work of fiction. That’s why it’s called a novel. That said, “nonfiction novel” is not the oxymoron it might at first seem. The term refers to the genre pioneered — though not, as is occasionally averred, invented — by Truman Capote with In Cold Blood, that of the work of nonfiction written novelistically. Lately one encounters people referring to any full-length book, even a work of nonfiction, as a novel. That has to stop.
  • final outcome
  • follow after
  • free gift
    A classic of the redundancy genre, much beloved of retailers and advertisers.
  • from whence
    Whence means “from where,” which makes “from whence” pretty damn redundant. Still, the phrase has a lot of history, including, from the King James Version of the Bible, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” So I suppose you can write “from whence” if you’re also talking about thine eyes and the place your help is comething from.
    For a dazzling (and purposeful) use of “from whence,” consider Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls lyric “Take back your mink / to from whence it came” — gorgeously appropriate for the tawdry nightclub number in which it’s sung.
  • frontispiece illustration
    A frontispiece is an illustration immediately preceding, and generally facing, a book’s title page.
  • full gamut
    A gamut is the full range or scope of something, so the word needs no modifier. Ditto “complete range,” “broad spectrum,” “full extent,” and their cousins.

Link to the rest at Medium

31 thoughts on “‘Close’ Proximity, ‘End’ Result, and More Redundant Words to Delete from Your Writing”

  1. Passed my grammar exam.

    If I had the energy, I’d give up The Handbook of Good English and take on Dreyer, but it appears Johnson has already educated me.

    The proper stuff doesn’t change much with the centuries, so we can still read old novels.

  2. Gah. What a stupid list.

    *ABM missile: ABM = anti-ballistic missile.

    Watch out for acronyms. ABM can mean other things in other contexts. I prefer the “missile’ at the end.

    *fall down: What are you going to do, fall up?

    You can fall to the side, to the back, to the front.

    *added bonus

    In some cases there IS an added bonus after the main bonus.

    *all-time record: As well, one doesn’t set a “new record.” One merely sets a record.

    Unless you are talking about a specific event, a yearly record, a season record, personal record, regional record, and so on. “All-time record” means something very specific.

    And I’ll stop there, because I have better things to do (like write this next scene) than tear apart such a stupid list.

    Another set of ‘guidelines’ to generally ignore.

    • We can add to this that some of these constructions are matters of emphasis. “Absolutely certain” may logically mean the same thing as “certain,” but rhetorically it does not. I have trained my children: If they ask for something and I say “no” they take this as maybe, but if I say “absolutely not!” they drop the matter.

    • Also:

      *final outcome

      This is as opposed to an secondary outcome, an intermediate outcome, an unintended outcome.

      *free gift

      Sometimes gifts come with strings attached, or have other significance that will incur a cost, or are given with the expectation that one will be given in return.

      • Also wasn’t the original usage of gift, at the gift of ….? The scholarship was at the gift of the dean. For example. There is no implication that because the Dean can make a choice as to a beneficiary the dean is obligated to make the scholarship cost free.

      • As the train lurched forwards the standing passenger fell back against the passenger behind them.

        Fall up is on of those phrases a science fiction author would use to add a bit of flavour to space flight or similar situation.

  3. And next, he will instruct on the proper way to answer a question in the form of, “Didn’t you go there yesterday?”

  4. I feel like rants like this are well-meaning but ignore the fact that language isn’t solely about exact correctness, but also about implication, habit, and social communication. It doesn’t matter that ‘exact same’ might be redundant if taken literally–sometimes you’re using redundancy for emphasis, or as a joke, or because it’s how all your peers say it and you need to sound like the group, etc.

    It’s an interpretation that lacks nuance, we’ll say. 🙂

    • Thank you. This, all of this.

      These kind of pedantic rants always come across to me as merely serving as self-righteous virtue signalling. It’s basically saying, “Hey look at me, I can point out logical inconsistencies in how language is used, and other people don’t so I am so much smarter/better/more educated than all those other poeple.”

      It completely ignores the subtleties of language, how the way something is said can express just as much if not more than the exact words, and the fact that language develops and evolves and people use it in community to share fellowship as much as information, and a lot of that involves the phrases and turns of speech that make it distinctive.

      Also, how can it be appalling to use the term “fiction novel” when he immediately goes on to say that “nonfiction novel” is a thing that exists….

    • Take this a step further. By couching this in terms of “correctness” you are conceding too much. Rather, language doesn’t follow formal logic, and never has. Attempt to analyze it as formal logic is a category error, and therefore doomed from the start.

  5. Not in the excerpt from from the original: “assless chaps.” Yes, chaps by definition cover just the legs. But one would not normally describe a cowboy in working gear as wearing “assless chaps.” That longer version would typically be reserved for a certain aspect of gay culture, emphasizing the salient attribute of the attire.

  6. “shuttle back and forth” While the oldest verbal sense of “shuttle” does involve going back and forth, this being a metaphor from the movement of the shuttle on a loom, there is a later, extended sense “to transport in, by, or as if by a shuttle.” So one might say that the commuter train was out of service, so the transit agency used buses to shuttle the passengers. Writing “shuttle back and forth” is appropriate to emphasize the backing and forthing.

  7. This is the standard pitfall of assuming that language’s primary purpose is logic, not rhetoric.

    It’s like the conventional “don’t use double negatives” command, when something like “I ain’t never doing that, no way, no how, unh-unh, not me.” is an obvious use of repetition for emphasis.

    Human languages are for communication, and there’s a lot more to communication than simple logic.

    But the real issue for people who make these sorts of recommendations is status signaling. If you don’t give lip service to the shibboleths of “the rules of formal writing”, then people feel free to accuse you of not being well-educated, and nothing is more important than that, to some.

    In life, you have to learn not only the right answers to tests, but then you have to dumb down enough to provide the answers the test-makers are looking for, not the best answers. As writers, esp. in fiction, we can do as we please.

  8. Fall down, lift up, join together, etc.: English has a proclivity for phrasal verbs. This is true even when the base verb has a sense of directionality. Using the phrasal verbal form is not necessary, but neither is it wrong. It might be chosen for rhythm or for emphasis. In some cases it can add clarity. To climb a ladder and to climb up a ladder usually mean the same thing, but you cal also climb down a ladder. So “climb up” would provide clarity in a context where the movement might go either way.

  9. More on fall down: Used without a complement, “fall” and “fall down” mean the same thing:

    (1) I fell.
    (2) I fell down.

    But add a complement and it is a different ball of wax:

    (3) I fell down the stairs.
    (4) *I fell the stairs.

    To simply dismiss “fall down” as redundant is at best misleading.

    • And then there’s all the metaphorical uses, such as “falling into error” or “falling in love”, both of which seem to imply that “error” and “love” are pits in the ground.

      It’s not the “down” part that matters to these metaphors — it’s the uncontrollable nature of “falling” that is salient. The directional aspect is far less important.

  10. The tragedy is that there is good advice buried under the pablum. It is the dictum to avoid needless words. But which words are needful? Or more to the point, which are useful, even if not absolutely necessary?

    Dreyer is right that these constructions often–perhaps usually–are needlessly wordy, and that the prose would be improved by using the shorter constructions. But how to know the difference? This isn’t a matter of following mechanical rules, but of connoisseurship: spend years reading good prose and this comes naturally.

    But a usage manual isn’t written for people who spend years reading good prose. It is written for undergrads trying to pull a solid B on a term paper. Hence the mechanical rules. They are guides for mediocre writing. For the intended audience, this is a worthy goal. But by couching these things as rules, the guide discourages good writing. The good writer has to contend with misguided miscorrections that hold mediocrity as the ideal.

    • “The good writer has to contend with misguided miscorrections that hold mediocrity as the ideal.”

      As I said, dumbing down your responses to match what the test maker wants. 🙂 A meta version of intelligence.

  11. Another MFA trying to educate the masses of us poor illiterate authors.

    Do you know the single biggest surprise to indie publishing?

    Most (as in 90%) of my readers could care less about proper grammar. As long as they can understand what is going on, they’re perfectly happy. I’m almost certain this is the case for every speculative fiction genre.

    Edit: I looked him up. Dude has one book and it’s a book on ‘proper’ English.

  12. Can I just say that the article author’s ignorance of things outside the realm of an MFA’s training is showing? “Close proximity” has a technical meaning that is different from, and often incompatible with, “proximity.” For example, when determining which standard to use for judging vessel mishaps (in air or at sea), “close proximity” has substantially different meaning than “proximity” — as does the amount of time one spends at “close proximity” prior to the mishap. And the less said about the relationship of “proximity” and “close proximity” to both formulated and incidental chemical explosives — which directly or indirectly involves a large proportion of construction sites, few of which have or are visited by MFAs — the better.

    That’s just one example. The key problem here is that the MFA person is assuming that his/her knowledge based on general use of language extends to nongeneral use. {sarcasm} But nobody with expertise in one area ever screws up by applying that expertise somewhere else. Not even when the expertise is dubious in the first place. {/sarcasm}

    • That’s a nice way of doing a sarcasm tag. The web standards team really needs to implement something of the kind. I’m not being sarcastic, by the way 🙂

  13. fall down – What are you going to do, fall up?


    Ray Bradbury’s short story Chrysalis in the book S is for Space, haunted me for decades because I remembered that the character “falls up into the sky”. It took me decades to find the story again.

    I was sure that it was called “Chrysalis” but forgot the author. In my 40’s I started systematically buying any anthology with that title. I stumbled across it when the movie version was made in 2008.

    Wiki – Ray Bradbury’s Chrysalis

    The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, isfdb.org, finally listed the story under Bradbury and I found a copy of S is for Space. Until the movie came out isfdb.org did not list it under Bradbury. Now when I look there are plenty of entries.

    The short story is better than the movie, more intense, more personal. I am definitely stealing the concept for my stuff, along with many other Bradbury concepts.

    BTW, It turns out what I remember reading, “falls up into the sky”, is not what is there:

    “With nothing of effort, just a little murmur of sound, Smith lifted his body gently from the ground into the warm air.”

    “He soared up quickly, quietly — and very soon he was lost among the stars as Smith headed for outer space . . .”

    I like “falls up into the sky” better.

    And then, of course, there is xkcd:


    Don’t look down. HA!

    • I was about to ask about the “fall up” thing for sci-fi. I was sure someone must have written of the occurrence in a low-to-no-gravity scenario.

      Never saw that particular XKCD strip. I did like the part in the game “Dragon Age: Origins” where my PC is asked by a dwarf — a race that normally lives underground — whether people can fall up into the sky. The dwarf’s brother had warned him to never go to “the surface” for that very reason. My PC was a smarty pants, so of course she told him that you have to hold on tight to the ground with your feet, to keep from falling into the sky.

      I agree with everyone: the OP’s post is ditzy, and strongly suggestive of the writer not grasping the purpose of language, or how words are used in different contexts.

      I’ve been watching a vlog series on YouTube, by a duo who are all into theory crafting the ASOIAF books. The couple loves pointing out the potential clues Martin might be weaving, on account of the context in which he uses certain words. Example: the girlfriend pointed out the etymology of “forest” in the context of Children of the Forest, and what those beings are. Or crows vs. ravens, and how Martin never uses the terms interchangeably, but rather keeps to how each bird is perceived in mythology and folklore — ravens are good, crows not so much.***

      That type of attention to language, where you layer clues, and build upon themes, could be so valuable in both rhetoric and fiction. But the OP is useless on that front. “Guide for mediocre writing” is exactly what the OP is offering, and thanks, Richard, for that observation. Friends don’t let friends drink and drive. Writer friends don’t let writer friends obey mediocre style guides.

      ***The vlogging duo is so enthusiastic, I am almost willing to read the books again. But, nah 🙂 I do hope Martin doesn’t let the vloggers down, though. They are definitely the “true fans” any creator would seek. And they build word of mouth, if the comments on their videos are anything to go by.

      • Yes, Ravens and Crows are different. We have both here in Santa Fe, and the Ravens are always laughing at me. I usually laugh back. HA HA HA!

        I was driving in a parking lot once and I noticed something on my left out the open window. A Raven was gliding beside me, at eye level. I said, “Yeah, right. Do you mind,” and the Raven peeled off.

        The xkcd is standard.

        As a kid I would lie on the grass and look out at the stars. I felt like the ground was the ceiling and there was nothing keeping me from falling into the sky. That’s why the Bradbury haunted me so. The other view, was that I was clinging to a vertical wall with infinity out there before me.

        – I can still do that if I make the mistake of looking “down” or “out”.

        BTW, I can be sitting in a chair and suddenly realize that the ceiling is the floor and I am suspended above a ten foot drop that could kill me. That is harder to shake. I just hang on to the chair for a bit until I can reorientate to the actual ground plane.

        Watch the Expanse Trailer for another example.

        The Expanse Season 4 Comic-Con Trailer (HD)

        Notice at about 3:20 as they are exiting the departure tunnel. The design is deliberate. It is a way of enclosing the space while giving people the chance to glimpse the sky/horizon. Nagata sees the horizon and stumbles from seeing farther than she is used to.

        Holden stops Amos from rushing forward to help. Both Holden and Amos are from Earth and they don’t have trouble with the horizon effect.

        I’ve got the chills just from writing this stuff. HA!

  14. I’m happy to have the English language evolve – the Internet speak article on here being a case in point. I still have a couple of niggles, mainly from advertising and TV promos – most unique, for example, and “The best…of anything…” requiring a “compared to what” for completion. Just me.

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