But I Repeat Myself

On National Public Radio recently, a newscaster reporting on the Middle East conflict said that Gaza had been “bisected in two.” Of course, the word bisected means divided into two parts, so the phrase is redundant.

In an article in the interior design section of a respected newspaper, a report on mirrors included this phrase: “With their capacity to reflect back nearly all incident light… .” The back is unnecessary because it’s contained in the definition of reflect.

I used to expect journalists to display a minimal level of literacy, but I’m no longer surprised by the egregious errors I routinely spot. In an earlier column, I discussed redundancies. The problem is obviously still with us, so here’s another take on the subject.

One reason this error is committed so frequently is that it isn’t always obvious that a particular combination of words is repetitive. Another reason is that certain phrases have become cliches, and because of their familiarity they “seem right.”

The problem can be solved by deleting the redundant element, which is most often an adjective. If any of the following appear okay to you, take a second look.

• actual fact

• close proximity

• completely surrounded

• confer together

• consensus of opinion

• convicted felon

• deliberate lie

• disappear from view

• necessary prerequisite

• new innovation

• new recruit

• merge together

I borrowed some of the above examples from a clever little book: Armed Gunmen, True Facts, and Other Ridiculous Nonsense, by Richard Kallan. Though it’s primarily intended for amusement, the hundreds of redundancies cited also serve an educational purpose. If certain people make you “shriek loudly” by committing this type of mistake, a gift of this book “might possibly” help raise their “mental awareness” of their habit.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.