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Wordsleuth (2002, vol. 35, 1): Too Many Words: Redundancies and Pleonasms

Sheila Sanders
(Terminology Update, Volume 35, Number 1, 2002, page 28)

Excess is the common substitute for energy.
Marianne Moore1

Marianne Moore, the poet, eloquently expresses an important reminder to all of us who write: focus on the quality of our words, not the number.

One of the ways we can keep our writing clear and concise is by avoiding redundancies, those unnecessary words that repeat previously stated information. Redundancies are slippery characters, sneaking into familiar expressions where they often lurk unnoticed, increasing verbiage in our message without adding information. Though some writers deliberately use repetition for style or emphasis, here I focus on redundancies that frequently arise and serve no purpose. As a matter of fact, I have included two redundancies in the introduction. Once you have spotted them, look at the asterisk at the end of the article to check your answers.

As an example of a redundancy, look at this sentence:

  • Participants will learn the four major component parts of strategic planning.

You will notice that either component or parts should be deleted, because both words mean the same thing. The corrected version would read:

  • Participants will learn the four major parts (or components) of strategic planning.

There is a category of redundancies called pleonasms, which are expressions that contain one or more words that are unnecessary because their meaning has already been expressed or implied. For instance, in the sentence,

  • The researchers and coordinators gathered together to shape the course of the project.

together isn’t required after gathered. Obviously, if people have gathered, they are together. Without the repetition, the text now reads:

  • The researchers and coordinators gathered to shape the course of the project.

You would think that eliminating redundancies and pleonasms would be easy. However, not all unnecessary words are easy to spot; many are almost invisible because they are contained within conventional, familiar expressions. After hearing them repeatedly, we unconsciously incorporate these expressions into our language, without clarifying our thoughts or weighing our words. Can you spot the following redundancy?

  • . . . it has been shown that some individuals take advantage of the close proximity of the two countries to exploit these differences.

If you recall that proximity means nearness or immediacy, you know that "close proximity" is redundant. And yet, how many times have we heard this expression—and perhaps used it ourselves?

How good are you at recognizing redundancies? See how many you can find in the left-hand column below, then check the right-hand column, which identifies the redundancies and briefly explains the problems. All the examples have been taken from government texts, including Hansard, though the names of the sources have been withheld to protect the guilty. You may, like me, be surprised to discover how many redundant words you unconsciously employ.
American poet, 1887-1972.2

How good are you at recognizing redundancies?
Sentences Containing Redundancies Identification and Explanation
I think this is the reason that the commissioners, against all past tradition, have decided to get involved this time. Tradition refers to a longtime practice; describing a tradition as having occurred in the past is redundant.
They report less satisfaction with their social lives, are less happy, and are less likely to engage in self-help activities or regular routine screening procedures. Because a routine is a customary or regular procedure, it is redundant to qualify routine as regular.
I’m pleased to note a new innovation that has just appeared in the stock markets over the last couple of months: the creation of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. An innovation is the application of a new idea or material; therefore innovation does not need to be described as new.
Telemarketing fraud usually involves the organization, pre-planning, and coordination of individual offenders. Planning means organizing future events; pre-planning is redundant.
No one can predict in advance the results of those negotiations . . . . As predict means to foresee the future, predict is sufficient, and predict in advance is superfluous.
For more information on injuries to children on the farm, please refer back to our spring 1994 issue. Since refer means to direct one’s attention to something in the past, refer back is an example of a pleonasm.
Without federal funding, there is some concern that the compliance rate will revert back to what it was before the program. Revert means to return or go back; to revert back is a pleonasm.
Technological advances and improved water management of existing supplies may offer a temporary reprieve. A reprieve is a deferment, and thus temporary, so temporary reprieve is redundant.
The evaluation of the project will be based on the successful achievement of outcomes and objectives. An achievement is a successful effort; hence successful achievement is unnecessary.
The action begins when roots decay and above-ground residues break down, and the released nutrients begin their downward tumble through soil catacombs to start all over again. There are two redundancies here. In this context, tumble means to fall down, so downward tumble is a pleonasm. The adverb again indicates repetition; consequently the expression all over again is redundant.
I would like to conclude with what has been a rather overused cliché but one I believe is apt under the circumstances, that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. A cliché is an overused expression; therefore it is pointless to write overused cliché.
The original founder of the company told Canada Investment News that Lunenburg’s Atlantic coast location offers many competitive advantages. By definition, a founder is the originator of an organization; thus in the phrase original founder, the modifier original is superfluous.
This pilot study assesses the evolution of Canada’s Flood Damage Reduction Program, and the resulting effects on the natural functions of wetlands for the Credit River watershed in Ontario. Because an effect is the result of previous actions, resulting effects is redundant. Write effects or results.
Healthy eating is the sum total of the food choices we make over time. Both sum and total refer to a whole; therefore sum total is redundant.
She is the widow of the late John Brown. A widow is a woman whose husband has died; adding the late before the husband’s name is unnecessary.
What do we keep? What can we merge together? Because merge means to combine, merge together is a pleonasm.
There was a general consensus across Canada that export subsidies should be eliminated, especially in the agricultural sector. As consensus indicates agreement either by everyone or by the majority, the modifier general in general consensus is redundant.
Although American eels are a panmictic species, management of each life stage of the eel on a regional basis is a necessary prerequisite. A prerequisite is a necessary prior condition; therefore it is redundant to write necessary prerequisite.

Foreign imports slowed sharply in tandem with a weaker domestic economy.

Imports are goods produced in foreign countries; hence foreign is superfluous.
Knowledge of cost-effective treatment technologies must also be disseminated, and site-specific research carried out to fill missing gaps. Because a gap is a place where something is missing, it is redundant to write a missing gap.
Recommendation: Communications sector reform merits close scrutiny by interested foreign companies, as this will open opportunities for significant investment. As scrutiny refers to a careful examination, close is an unnecessary modifier.
In addition, the usual custom is that when the House is prorogued, as a courtesy, the government consults with opposition. A custom is a routine or tradition, so usual custom is redundant.
Lighthouse enthusiasts got an unexpected surprise when the regional director for the Canadian Coast Guard used the occasion to share some long-awaited good news. A surprise is an unexpected event; hence an unexpected surprise is a pleonasm.
The large number of anti-personnel mines in developing countries is a terrible tragedy for humanity. Because a tragedy can refer only to an awful event, terrible tragedy is redundant.

Notes

Bibliography

Gage Canadian Dictionary (2000)
TERMIUM® [federal government: btb.termiumplus.gc.ca; outside federal government: www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca]
www.wordexplorations.com/pleonasm.html
www.wvswrite.com/300Content/317_redundancies.htm
www.gmu.edu/departments/writingcenter/handouts/gu_edit.html [link no longer available]
www.cohums.ohio-state.edu/cstw/tutor/style2.htm