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Eliminate Repeating Redundancies!

By Lyle Crist / October 16, 1990



THERE isn't much that can be done about them except get rid of them, and yet few people want to do that. I'm speaking about redundancies. Those unnecessary, superfluous overwritings and oversayings that give a kind of unfortunate repetitiveness to conversation and writing. They come in assorted sizes. And from assorted sources. One of my favorites cropped up in a television weather report - the evening roundup concluded with the announcer saying, ``Well, folks, there's an important note about last month: February was the wettest month on record, as far as precipitation is concerned.'' You can't really argue against that kind of observation.

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I recall a young man who wrote in a college paper: ``In morals you learn how to behave in questions of things like morals.'' I savored this for some time.

Another remarkable profundity occurred in a paper in which the student was discussing the art of writing - which he needed to research a bit more. He came up with this remarkable conclusion: ``Every writer has been influenced by life to some extent, especially those who have tried to write.''

I could not disagree.

One does not dismiss lightly the implications in these phrasings. What makes redundancy? Definitions suggest profuseness, but there are subdivisions. Pleonasm involves the use of words whose omission would leave the meaning intact.

Verbiage or verbosity, however, goes beyond this task of editing: There is just too much of the unnecessary to allow mere editing to handle it. One can speak of ``an ebony black vase'' and know that editing will be quick. But it will take a bit more to handle the verbosity of another writer who writes ``another aspect of the dilemma emigrated into his pate'' when he means merely that ``he had an idea.''

The variety of redundancies is endless, I suppose. I'm particularly intrigued with the ones which end in cyclic repetitions. February being the wettest month - as far as precipitation is concerned - is one. Another is the comment by a basketball coach. Asked by an area sports writer what he thought were the prospects for the coming season, the coach pondered briefly, then came up with, ``Well, I'd say that if we win our first five or six ball games, we'll be off to a good start.''

One feels on the defensive in such encounters, but what can you do that will help? Not much except shrug!

Another offspring of redundancies is circumlocution - a highly prized style that involves roundabout expression: You go across the street, down and back again, in order to get to the house next door. Put circumlocution and needless repetition together and you have a new breed which might be called ``circumlo-verbiage.''

I recall reading this on an assessment form: ``An individual who is resident for the basis of a year for a year of assessment is ordinarily resident for that basis year unless he is not ordinarily resident for that basis year.''

Individual words cause redundancies - and tendencies toward redundancies. I find ``re-echo'' in the dictionary, but I don't really prefer such a term. Re-echo is defined as ``to echo back.'' I'm not sure there is such a phenomenon, but somehow I assumed that was precisely what ``echo'' meant.

And what should we do with the redundancy on so many mailers and in store windows these days - the one that offers a ``Free Gift!'' Is there any other kind?

We must not overlook ``irregardless.'' There is no such word, however much it is used. It means, for its users, ``regardless'' - and that's what regardless always says, so why the need to tack on another prefix?

It must be that redundancies have an emotional effect - the more we use them, the more impact we think we get.

Well, it just goes to show that economy is not all-important. In government, maybe; in family expense, yes; in language, not really. We like to overdo our phrasing a bit.

On another level, daily conversation offers another kind of game playing. I recall a student who had to leave the classroom, asking me, ``May I be excused with permission?''

Hmmm. I always assumed that ``excused'' already provided for ``permission.'' It's been that way for years.

But I played along.

``Yes,'' I said. ``And you may leave, too, for a while.''