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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Useless Repetitions You Should Avoid in English (IV)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

93. (Private) industry. Industry is almost always never owned by the public; it’s by definition a private enterprise. Thus, “private industry” is a redundant phrase.

94. (Present) incumbent. An incumbent is a current officeholder. Since “present” is synonymous with “current,” “present incumbent” is tautological. 

95. Previously listed (above). This tautology is common in writing. Both “previously listed” and “above” refer to something that had been mentioned earlier, so saying them in the same sentence is pointlessly repetitive. 

96. Proceed (ahead). “Ahead” adds nothing to the sense that “proceed” conveys. The notion of moving “ahead” is intrinsic to the meaning of the word. No one proceeds back.

98. (Proposed) plan. It is a “plan” because it is “proposed.” If it has gone beyond being proposed, then it is no longer a plan, so “proposed plan” is a useless repetition.

99. Protest (against). This standard phrase in American (and increasingly British) English is tautological because both “protest” and “against” express opposition. 

100. Recur (again). Recur means to “happen again.” That means “again” repeats the sense already expressed in the word. It is similar to “return (back).”

101. Re-elect (for another term). To reelect is to “elect again.” The sense of “another term” is already implied in the word’s meaning, making the phrase a useless repetition.

 102. (Regular) routine. Routines are by nature regular. That’s why they are routines. Irregular activities are not routines. Thus, “regular routine” is pointless verbosity. 

103. Repeat (again). Like “recur again,” this phrase contains words that mean the same thing. To repeat is to do something “again.”

104. Round (in shape). Just saying “round” would do. It’s obvious that roundness is a shape. Similar tautological expressions are “shiny (in appearance),” “tall (in height),” “small/big (in size),” soft (in texture),” “ten (in number),” “slow (in speed),” etc.

105. (Safe) haven. Safe haven is a fixed expression in English, but many stylisticians rail against it. They say it is redundant because a haven is by definition safe. A similar redundancy is “(safe) sanctuary.”

106. Same (exact) or exact (same). I, too, use this tautological expression in speech every once in a while, but “exactness” and “sameness” have fairly similar semantic properties and need not be used in the same sentence.  

107. Scrutinize (in detail). To scrutinize is to look at something in detail, so it is stylistic waste to say or write “scrutinize in detail.” A similar redundancy is “spell out (in detail).”

108. Separated (apart from each other). Separation is being apart from each other. That makes the phrase pleonastic. 

109. (Serious) danger. Danger is always serious. It is not danger if it isn’t serious.

110. (Sharp) point. A point is by definition sharp.

111. (Single) unit. A unit is a “single undivided whole.” Since a unit is always already single, “single unit” is repetitive.

112. (Small) speck. This is a redundant expression because a peck is a tiny piece of anything. Smallness is central to the notion of a speck. A huge speck would be a contradiction in terms.

113. Sole (of the foot). The sole (sometimes confused with “soul”) is the underside of the foot, so adding “of the foot” to “sole” is redundant in writing but perfectly defensible, even desirable, in speech since “sole” can sound like “soul” in speech.

114. (Still) persists. When something persists, it means it is “still” there. Both words denote continuance of existence. A similar tautology is “(still) remains.”

115. (Sudden) impulse. An impulse is a sudden desire. Since an impulse is by nature sudden, it is a waste of words to say or write that a feeling is a “sudden impulse.”

116. (Sum) total. A sum is the same thing as a total. They both mean the whole amount, yet it is customary for people to say or write about the “sum total” of numbers.

117. Surrounded (on all sides). Surrounded means “confined on all sides,” so “on all sides” repeats the meaning of “surrounded” in the phrase without adding any value to it. 

118. (Temper) tantrum. A tantrum is a display of bad temper, so tantrum is a temper, making the phrase “temper tantrum” a pointless repetition. 

119. (Tiny) bit. We often use this phrase for emphasis in conversational English, but it is a useless repetition that should be avoided in serious writing since bits are by nature tiny. 

120. (True) facts. Facts are always true. If they are false, they are not facts. Since things have to be true to be facts, it is pointless repetition to talk of “true facts.”

121. (Two equal) halves. A half is one of two equal parts of a whole. Halves are two equal parts. So the phrase “two equal” repeats the sense that “halves” already conveys.

122. Undergraduate (student). An undergraduate is always a student, not a farmer and certainly not a professor. So it’s pointless repetition to add “student” to “undergraduate,” although many prestigious universities and colleges do that. Another redundancy in the same class is “doctorate degree,” which, again, many respected English-language institutions repeat. A doctorate is by definition a degree. Unlike “bachelor’s degree” and “master’s degree” that need the word “degree” to avoid ambiguity, a doctorate is unambiguously a degree, so the addition of “degree” to “doctorate” is repetitive. I have also been guilty of writing “doctorate degree” in the past.

123. (Unexpected) emergency. Emergencies are always unexpected. It’s impossible to conceive of an expected emergency. A similar redundancy is “(unexpected) surprise.”

124. (Unintentional) mistake. Since things are mistakes only because they are unintentional, “unintentional mistakes” is a useless redundancy. 

 125. (Usual) custom. A custom is a person’s or a people’s usual mode of behavior. Since usualness is a key element of a custom, “usual custom” is pointless repetition.

126. Vacillate (back and forth). Vacillate means to move back and forth, thus “back and forth” repeats the meaning of “vacillate.”

127. (Very) unique. Uniqueness is an ultimate state that can’t be intensified any further. In my grammar exercises, nearly 90 percent of my students fail to notice the tautology in this expression. They also fail to identify “most unique” as a double superlative since being “unique” is already a superlative state.

128. visible (to the eye). Things can be visible only to the eye. They can’t be visible to the nose or the ears or the tongue. So the expression is guilty of stating the obvious.

129. Warn (in advance). Warning is advance notification of something. If the notification is not in advance, it is not a warning.

130. (White) snow. Snow is never anything but white.

Final Thoughts
In the course of this series, many readers wrote to complain that some of the expressions identified as useless repetitions are fixed collocations in English and wonder why they are included in the list. Well, first, as the first part of the series shows, the list isn’t original to me. It was compiled by Dr. Richard Nordquist, a retired professor of English here in Georgia, USA. I only added my commentary to his list.

My take on redundancies (read my two-part series titled “Between Useless and Useful Tautologies”) is that they are not necessarily grammatical errors. Some of them, in fact, give color to the language and help avoid ambiguity. Others are useful tools to establish emphasis, especially in speech. Still others are part of the architecture of the language and therefore difficult to avoid without sounding stilted. Yet others are the product of carelessness. 

Nonetheless advocates of brevity in speech and writing recommend that they be avoided in the interest of stylistic economy. My object in these series is to bring to the attention of my readers the redundancies that scholars of English have identified over the years. Happy New Year!




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