The Language Perfectionist: Redundancies Redux

A year ago, I devoted a column to the topic of redundant expressions. This error continues to be widespread, as the following examples, recently culled from the media, demonstrate:

  • “I have come to realize that the seeming constancy of the harbor symbolized a false myth about nature.” (The phrase false myth is not as common as true fact and actual fact, but it’s just as redundant.)

  • “Many filed applications with the state attorney general’s office to get their refunds back….” (The re- in refund means “back,” so the sentence should read “get their refunds.”)
  • “Scientists at Newcastle University, UK, have worked out a mathematical formula that could be used to give advance warning of where a tsunami is likely to hit and how destructive it will be.” (By definition, a warning comes in advance.)

Sometimes, the redundant elements are separated and thus harder to spot, as in this example: “Nothing short of body scans and conducting all security outside the airport is the only way to ensure protection.” (Nothing short of and only convey the same meaning.)

Why is it desirable to avoid redundancies? One reason is that they’re unnecessary. The most famous commandment of Strunk and White, in their classic guide The Elements of Style, is “Omit needless words.” Effective writing is concise. In addition, redundancies can be irritating. A friend once complained to me that she cringes at her husband’s frequent use of “tiny little.”

[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 that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]
  • I would like to say a few words in defense of the phrase “advance warning.” To me, the difference between an “advance warning” and a mere “warning” is that the latter might be a matter of minutes, whereas a warning received further in advance might allow enough time to make and implement plans to deal with the imminent disaster.