By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Dr. Richard Nordquist, a professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Armstrong Atlantic State University here in the state of Georgia, USA, compiled a helpful list of what he called “200 common redundancies” in English for About.com, a website dedicated to providing informative content by experts on a wide range of topics.
In what follows, I have compressed Dr. Nordquist’s list of redundancies and added my commentary. The words in parenthesis are redundant and should be avoided by careful writers. From my perspective, though, redundancies or tautologies are not necessarily grammatical errors. They are sometimes necessary for emphasis and clarity. But most of them are also the product of intellectual sloppiness. So here you go:
1. (Actual) facts. The “actual” in the phrase is useless because actuality is the only ingredient of facts. It isn’t a “fact” if it isn’t “actual.”
2. Advance (forward). Advancement is necessarily a forward movement. Since it is illogical for anything or anybody to “advance backward,” the phrase is a useless repetition. Other tautologies on Nordquist’s list that have the needless “advance” prefixed to them are “(advance) planning,” “(advance) preview,” “(advance) reservations,” and “(advance) warning.” All these words mean “ahead of time” and can do without “advance,” which also means “ahead of time.”
3. Add (an additional) something or somebody. The redundancy in this phrase is self-evident. To add is to “make an addition to” something. A related redundancy is “(added) bonus.”
4. (All-time) record. Since a record is the best or worst attainment, etc. of “all time,” the adjective “all-time” is pointless.
5. Alternative (choice). Both “alternative” and “choice” mean the same thing in contemporary usage. Note, however, that some semantic purists, who are now for the most part on the linguistic fringe, argue that you cannot use “alternative” where more than two choices are involved because “alter,” from which the word is derived, is Latin for “other,” of two.
6. 7 a.m. (in the morning). A.M. stands for "ante meridiem," which is Latin for “before noon," that is, morning. This also applies to the expression “2 p.m. (in the afternoon).” P.M. stands for “post meridiem,” which is Latin for “after noon.”
7. (Anonymous) stranger. If he wasn’t anonymous he wouldn’t be a stranger. A stranger is necessarily anonymous.
8. (Annual) anniversary. Anniversary means an annual occurrence. The Oxford English Dictionary says anniversary is derived from the Latin anniversarius. It breaks down the word thus: “annus” means year, “versus” means turned, or a turning, and “arius” means connected with or pertaining to. That should give us “pertaining to turning a year.” So that renders the phrase “annual anniversary” redundant.
Some people talk of a “monthly anniversary.” Well, that’s not standard usage. I’ve heard people talk about “mensiversary” to refer to a monthly occurrence, but I haven’t found the word in standard dictionaries. It was neologized from “mensis,” which is Latin for month. Other neologisms are “luniversary,” “monthiversary,” and “monthaversary.” None of them is standard, however.
9. (Armed) gunman. The redundancy in the phrase just shoots you right in your face!
10. Ascend (up). Where else do you ascend to? Down? Sideways?
11. Ask (the question). What do you do to a question other than to ask it?
12. Assemble (together). Assembling is a process of bringing something together. That makes “together” unneeded in the phrase. Related tautological phrases common in spoken English are “attach (together),” “blend (together),” etc.
13. Autobiography (of his or her own life). An autobiography is “a person's life history written by that person.” “Auto” means self, that is, on one's own. If a person’s life history is authored by someone else, it is called a biography. That means the phrase “biography (of his--or her--life)” is also redundant.
14. Bald (-headed). Bald-headed is a standard phrase, but you can save space by doing away with “headed” since bald means lacking hair on the head.
15. (Basic) fundamentals. Fundamentals means basic principle, so “basic fundamentals” is redundant. So is “(basic) necessities” because necessities are basic needs.
16. Best (ever). I talked about this phrase in my May 29, 2011 article titled “Superlative Expressions in American English.” Best and ever are superlative states, that is, the highest degree attainable, and can’t logically be combined.
17. Bouquet (of flowers). The phrase is needlessly repetitive because a bouquet is by definition a bunch of flowers. There can’t be a bouquet of humans.
18. (Brief) moment. A moment is a short time. That makes “brief” superfluous. Other redundant expression involving brief are “(brief) summary” and “brief (in duration).”
19. (Burning) embers. It won’t be an ember if it isn’t burning.
To be continued next week
Update on “Wonderful!” as an Exclamation
In my October 20, 2013 article titled "My Favorite Exclamatory Expressions in Nigerian English (II),” I quoted a certain Roger Blench who said Hausa speakers of English often say “wonderful!” upon being told news of the death of close family friends. He implied that “wonderful!” is an inept English translation of the Hausa “mamaki!” which is used to express deep surprise or wonder. I doubted the authenticity of his claims and asked readers to weigh in. Many did. I have chosen to share only a representative few.
Based on the responses I received, I am inclined to conclude that only non-native Hausa-speaking northerners (such as Nupe and southern Borno people) use “wonderful!” as an exclamation of surprise, perhaps, out of a misrecognition of the meaning of the Hausa “mamaki” in English.
Hausa speakers don’t say “Wonderful!”
Thank you very much for your educative columns in the Sunday Trust. I don't enjoy my weekend without reading your write-ups. I am a native speaker of Hausa from Kano State, and I am not aware of the word "wonderful!" being used when someone dies, so your submission is right. What we say in Hausa is “abin mamaki!”
Auwal Gambo Ya'u (email@example.com)
Thank you for yet another informative article. As a native speaker of Hausa, not once have I ever heard anybody say “wonderful!" on hearing about the passing away of even an enemy, let alone a close relative. In fact, being predominantly Muslims, Hausa people are trained to use sympathetic words or invoke God when someone dies. I think the use of "wonderful" by Hausa speakers of English is mostly to express surprise and/or delight.
Yakubu Aliyu, Dept. of English and Literary Studies, Bayero University, Kano
People say “Wonderful!” In Southern Borno
I came across your write-up in the Sunday Trust of 0ctober 20, 2013 titled "My Favourite Exclamatory Expressions in Nigerian English (II)” and I was moved to respond concerning “wonderful!,” the 16th exclamatory expression you discussed.
I was born and bred in Borno State, have lived mostly in Maiduguri, but originally from southern Borno. Though we in Borno are not native Hausa speakers, we speak Hausa fairly well. I can tell you that people from southern Borno use the exclamation “wonderful!” when told of sad news (death inclusive). Growing up, I found it rather odd when people used “wonderful!” to express sorrow. The mouth says “wonderful!” but the face looks gloomy and sometimes teary-eyed. It’s kind of funny, I must confess. My guess is that Roger Blench got his information from someone from my place. Personally, I don’t think it is appropriate to use it when something sad happens, but my people do use it.
Kudura Reuben (firstname.lastname@example.org)
And in Nupeland, too
I read your column in the Sunday Trust and it is very captivating. I just want to add my little contribution about exclamation #16, "mamaki." You are right, but I think Roger Blench is also not wrong. “Wonderful!” (our translation of “mamaki”) is used in unusual circumstances not by the Hausa people per se, but by the Nupe-speaking people. Many Nupe people will confirm this.
Adam Umar (email@example.com)
Politics of Grammar Column
Politics of Grammar Column