ACWC Writers Blog

REDUNDANCY: AN EXCESSIVE, OPPRESSIVE, PERVASIVE DISEASE
Friday, August 26, 2016 by By Denise Loock

“Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.” That’s #47 in William Safire’s entertaining and enlightening book, Fumblerules. The principle is simple, but its mastery elusive, even for seasoned writers and editors.

Too often we’re unaware of the redundancies that lurk undetected in our sentences. Did you catch the needless repetition in the previous sentence? Using unaware and undetected with lurk is redundant. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, lurk means “to lie in ambush, to be hidden but capable of being discovered.” I should have written this: redundancies lurk in our sentences. Use precise verbs.

A devotion in the December 2014 edition of a daily devotional magazine was titled “Free Gift.” Again, Merriam-Webster exposes the redundancy. By definition, a gift is “transferred … without compensation.” If it isn’t, the writer should use reward, bribe or exchange. Use precise nouns.

In a book written by a well-known author, I came across “unsuspected surprises.” By definition, a surprise is “something unexpected or astonishing.” The fraternal twin of unsuspected surprises is unexpected surprises. Avoid both. And use a dictionary.

Sir Ernest Gowers provides some helpful advice in The Complete Plain Words. And no, helpful advice isn’t redundant. Haven’t we all received plenty of unhelpful advice? Back to Gowers:

“Cultivate the habit of reserving adjectives and adverbs to make your meaning more precise, and suspect those that you find yourself using to make it more emphatic. Use adjectives to denote kind rather than degree … economic crisis or a military disaster … [not] acute crisis or a terrible disaster.”

Recently, I almost used actual proof in a FaceBook post. See what I mean? Redundancy is a virus that can threaten the health of any sentence. (Check the definition of virus, and you’ll realize that adding an adjective like destructive or pernicious would be redundant.)

Here’s your assignment this week: Examine a page of your work in progress, sentence by sentence. Probe every noun and verb, checking for preciseness. Interrogate every modifier: what value does it add to the sentence? Scrutinize every word under the light of its dictionary definition.

Search for redundancies like these:
Basic necessities
Filled up
Up above
Brand-new
Close proximity
Gave away
Future plans
Reflect back

And while you’re editing, reduce phrases like these to one word:
Made a decision
Faced a need
Have the opportunity to see
Is in need of
Look forward to the future


Comments

Carol G. Stratton From Mooresville, N.C. At 1/1/2018 10:00:44 PM

Denise, I plead guilty to many of your observations. Thank you for reminding me to keep my sentences simple and precise, without redundancies.

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