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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.]

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.