Bad habits are hard to break
A bad practice in writing (and speaking) is redundancy. Anyone who has sat through a speech that goes round and round and uses the same few words over and over knows what I mean. We may sometimes do this deliberately, for stylistic reasons, or in order to raise the word count of an essay or report. But even when we strive to avoid repetition, we may be more redundant than we intend to be.
Is it absolutely necessary to stop at the automated teller machine machine?
Certain redundant expressions are so common that we tend to use them unconsciously, but if we want to improve our communication skills, it’s not a bad idea to make a conscious effort to avoid them.
Let’s take a look at some of these redundancies, beginning with absolutes: absolutely essential and absolutely necessary are redundant because essential and necessary have absoluteness built into their definitions. Likewise, very unique and exact duplicate are poor constructions because unique is as absolute as a word can be, and if a duplicate is not exact, it’s not a duplicate. Completely destroyed and completely empty are equally redundant.
Other redundancies are “extended abbreviations,” such as ATM machine, PIN number, UPC code, and HIV virus. Were we to use these, we would be withdrawing money from the automated teller machine machine, inputting our personal identification number number to make a purchase, scanning Universal Product Code codes, and trying to find a cure for the human immunodeficiency virus virus.
Spot the redundant expressions
The best argument for avoiding redundant expressions is that the use of them implies the writer or speaker is either careless or unschooled in basic vocabulary. Consider the following story:
Mona had a difficult dilemma. She worked for a caterer, and from 9 a.m. in the morning until 12 noon, her job was to hand out free gifts at the mall. But her close personal friend Myrtle had just given birth to a baby girl, and she had promised to take care of Myrtle’s pair of twins while Myrtle was in the hospital. To Mona, the twins were annoying pests, but she would keep her promise. When Mona explained to her boss that Myrtle’s early delivery had come as an unexpected surprise, she could see the intense fury in his eyes. Silently, he prepared the different varieties of his decorative garnishes. The evil fiend then suddenly exploded and spelled out in detail why Mona was fired. Mona’s future prospects looked dim, as jobs were few in number. Mona now runs her own company, so getting fired may possibly have been her lucky break.
The preceding bit of fiction contains a whopping 18 redundant expressions. As the writer, I have revealed that either I am careless or I do not grasp that all dilemmas are difficult, a.m. = in the morning, and noon is always 12. Furthermore, when is a gift not free, or a close friend not personal? And if a just-born girl is not a baby, what on earth is she? As for the twins, it would be quite a trick if they were not a pair, and also, being pests, if they were not annoying.
If Myrtle’s delivery was an unexpected surprise, what, pray tell, would an expected surprise be? The intense fury (“intense intense anger”) in the boss’s eyes was probably no surprise, given that he was an evil fiend (“evil evil being”). And shame on his redundant food preparations: different varieties of decorative garnishes? If they’re not different, they’re not varieties; if they’re garnishes, they’re decorative. Just how would he have exploded if not suddenly, and is it possible to spell something out with no detail? Mona would be remarkable if she had prospects for the past rather than the future and if she found that jobs were few in something other than number. At least Mona’s story had a happy ending, even if its telling ends with a regrettable redundancy: may possibly (never use that one!).
With that, I absolutely definitely end here with positive certainty.
More English usage advice
The opinions and other information contained in the Oxford Dictionaries Online blog posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of OUP.
- Competitions and quizzes (26)
- Dictionaries and lexicography (116)
- English in use (304)
- Grammar and writing help (58)
- Interactive features (46)
- OED Appeals (4)
- Other languages (50)
- Varieties of English (28)
- Word origins (156)
- Word trends and new words (93)