Episode 182: August 7, 2009
by Rob Reinalda
Grammar Girl here.
In today's episode we’re going to look at, examine, and explore redundancies, tautologies and other superfluous excesses.
We all want to keep our writings as cogent as possible; in part, that means excising needless words – notably redundancies.
Earlier and Later
There’s a particular construction that frequently makes its way into even the best news writing, as well as into press releases and other corporate communications: “later this week,” “earlier this year” and the like. Here’s how and why the “later” and “earlier” are redundant. Consider this sentence: “I’ll get back to you later this week.” Well, it has to be later this week; it’s in the future. “Later” is implicit. It’s sufficient, when discussing an upcoming event, to say, “I’ll get back to you this week.”
The same goes for this sentence, dealing with a past event: “She went to Marrakesh earlier this year.”
An exception would be when striking a contrast between two events and the relative chronology is important. Here’s an example: “The senator said in June that he supported the railroad project. Earlier this year, he opposed the project.”
A similar redundancy can be found in this sentence: “Let me know what your future plans are.”
If you’re talking about plans that one has now, they are almost invariably plans for the future. You might modify the word “plans” with the words “immediate” or “long-term” to clarify a timeframe, of course.
If, by chance, you had some plans in the past that didn’t work out, you could toss a “previous” in there, as in, “My previous plans were to become an aerialist, but then I got that inner-ear infection … ”
We can find a comparable situation with “past history”and “past experience.” Again, when taken in the opposite direction, time-wise, a modifier would be helpful: “We here at Granite Airlines hope your future experience with us will be far more enjoyable. And we do hope that nasty stain comes out of your suit.” Similarly, one need not prepare ahead of time. To prepare is sufficient.
Here’s another doozy: “Happy 10-year anniversary!” The Random House and American Heritage dictionaries trace the origin of “anniversary” to words roughly meaning “the turning of the year.” The root “annus” means year, so it’s fine to go simply with “Happy 10th anniversary!”
That is the opposite problem, of course, of people who insist on marking their “six-week anniversary,” which doesn’t really make sense, even if it is kind of sweet for a new couple. Awwwwww. Just don’t use it in your writing.
In the Process Of
Some verbal excesses aren’t necessarily redundant; they’re just cumbersome.
One such phrase to excise from your writing is “in the process of,” as in, “My kids are in the process of driving me crazy.” Delete it, and you have, “My kids are driving me crazy.” Anytime you see “in the process of,” take it out and check to see whether any meaning is lost. You’ll save your fingers thousands of superfluous keystrokes over a few decades. (Notice we didn’t need to say “a period of a few decades.”)
Extend an Invitation
Recently a writer “extended us an invitation to” a party. Well! It seems “invite” wasn’t enough. That must have been some party. Probably to a 10th anniversary party.
Oh, as long as we’re discussing invitations, watch out for “please R.S.V.P.” R.S.V.P. stands, of course, for répondez s'il vous plaît and that means “respond, please.” So, “please R.S.V.P.” would mean “please respond, please.” If you're begging, that's fine; but really, it's better to preserve your dignity.
Whether or Not
Another quick way to trim a couple of words at a time from your writing (and your speech) is to keep an eye on the “whether” – the “whether or not,” that is.
I can’t decide whether or not to bring my umbrella. Lose the “or not”in that instance, and you’re fine. Just don’t lose your umbrella.
The Quick and Dirty Tip is overarching, yet fairly simple: Think about what every word means; don’t toss in a phrase just because you hear it or see it a lot. Common usage all too frequently is incorrect usage.
The Reason Is Because
Take this example, and you’ll see what we mean: The reason you love grammar is because you love rules.
Well, let's see. The words “reason” and “because” both represent the same idea. The sentence would be just as clear if you leave either of them out. It could read, “The reason you love grammar is that you love rules,” or “You love grammar because you love rules.”
Think about what every word means, and take out the ones that are redundant. It's easy, and it works.
You Can Say That Again
Let’s close with one a familiar term: “reiterate.” “Let me reiterate,” one might say, usually for emphasis. According to many dictionaries, to iterate is to say or do something again or repeatedly. So, “reiterate” would mean to re-repeat your words or actions.
“Reiterate,” of course, has become the more common term. The savvy writer, though, knows that “iterate” works just as well and that knowledge can be useful. For a headline writer, for example, any tactic for trimming characters helps in a tight count.
This podcast was written by Rob Reinalda, executive editor for Ragan Communications (word_czar on Twitter), and I'm Mignon Fogarty, the author of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
That's all. Thank for listening.