The Language Perfectionist: Reject Redundancies

A common type of misuse is redundancy, also known as tautology or pleonasm. Here are some examples, drawn from print and online sources:

  • “I hope that your advance planning has brought you the sense of security and peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything is as it should be.” (The word planning presupposes that it is done in advance.)
  • “What appears in Wikipedia is not always necessarily a true fact.” (By definition, a fact is always true. Thus, avoid saying false fact, too.)
  • “Before long, emoticons had accomplished what Esperanto never could: establish a universal lingua franca.” (The term lingua franca means universal language.)
  • “The track proceeds past a rock shelter on the left to the open summit… from whence there are excellent views.” (The word whence means “from where.”)
  • “Don’t you think Germans were sitting around having this exact same conversation about their country during Hitler’s rise to power?” (The word same means identical.)

Argumentative readers might dispute my interpretations by citing liberal dictionary definitions or by claiming that certain phrases were not redundant centuries ago. They may have a case, but these locutions are still best avoided. They add more words than necessary. They’re awkward, clunky, and cliched. Finally, some people are irritated by such linguistic tics as “tiny little” and “screaming and yelling.”

Of course, we copywriters are not immune to criticism on this point, especially for the frequent use of the marketing promise “free gift.”

[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 forthcoming from AWAI, that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into critiquing, consulting, training, and speaking.]

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.