Delete your redundant pleonasms
What do these sentences have in common?
These sentences all use more words than are necessary to convey meaning. You can only nod your head,* and a nod only goes up and down. You can’t squint anything but your eyes, just as you can’t shrug anything but your shoulders. Ice is frozen; it’s always frozen. When ice isn’t frozen, it’s just … water. And when you kneel, you kneel down; you can’t kneel up!
Adding those extra words creates a type of redundancy called pleonasm. As an editor, I also find those phrases pet peeves, and I kill them dead.
See what I did there? “Kill them dead” is another pleonasm. You can’t kill something halfway. (I did the same thing in the title of this blog post.)
Most pleonasms are stylistic errors, but you can use a pleonasm as a stylistic choice to add (poetic) emphasis:
“I saw it with my own eyes.”
Whose eyes? My OWN eyes!
Some phrases, like “free gift” or “foreign imports” are used so often together that it can be hard to recognize that they contain redundancies. And some phrases, like "tuna fish" are idiomatic (in American English, at least), and so you can make a case that this instance is not a stylistic error. This list of 200 common redundancies in English can help you re-train your eye.
When you spot pleonasms in your writing, it’s best to delete the redundancy, as many readers will consider it an error. Aside from that, deleting any redundancies just makes your writing tighter, which can help it become more powerful. And, if you’re focused on a tight word count, deleting redundancy is an easy way to start cutting.
Alternatively, make very, very sure that you INTEND the redundancy because you want to emphasize the thing that is repeated.
When I'm editing your work...
* OK, so it’s not entirely true that you can only nod your head. James S. A. Corey, in his series The Expanse, created a hand- and body-gesture-based language for people who work in bulky space suits. You can’t see someone nodding in a space suit, so in his world, spacers “nod their fist.”
3/17/2019 12:54:37 pm
I love this! I'm just now catching up on tons of blogs, so be prepared for what looks like a sychopant, following you from post to post with comments.
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