Last Sunday I gave a talk in Los Angeles entitled “You Don’t Say—Navigating the Quirky English Language.” For nearly two years I wrote a column for the Sisters in Crime Southern Nevada newsletter called “You Don’t Say” with Mike Dennis, a writer friend of mine. We loved seeking out redundancies–one of those quirks that seem to be increasing.
Yogi Berra, a former American Major League Baseball catcher, outfielder and manager, became almost as famous for his “Yogi-ism” phrases as he was for baseball. One of the best known went something like, “It’s deja vu all over again.” Yogi-isms have been quoted by everyone from young children to Presidents of the United States.
When this language-twister uttered one of his sage observations, everybody laughed. However, sometimes I feel that people are forgetting that these redundant phrases once were a big joke.
Think about it. We see offers of “a free gift” all the time. If the advertisement or pitchman is really trying to impress the reader or listener with the generosity of the offer, it might even be as exceptional as “an absolutely free gift.” Um…isn’t that the idea behind a gift? No charge? As Webster defines a gift, “it is something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” Sounds free to me.
The media must assume some guilt for this distrust of the pure meaning of a word. Here are a few recent examples: adequate enough, a navy sailor, an army soldier. Then we have things like coupled together with.
I guess you might want to define a soldier in the service of his or her country as an army soldier so they are not confused with a Mafia soldier, for example, but if it’s used on the evening news in connection with a bombing in Afghanistan, it’s unlikely that it needed that clarification. It’s pretty likely the soldier was in the army.
You must believe your writing is strong enough to support the statements you make. This practice of saying the same thing in two or more ways is pretty foolish. Not only that, but it diminishes the meaning of the operative word.
Besides sounding foolish, the practice of bolstering a word with a word that replicates its meaning weakens the expressiveness of the language.
To demonstrate just how irksome these redundant phrases can be, here are a few for you to ponder:
- fast forward ahead
- socialize together
- two twin towers
- return back
- progress forward
- forests of trees
- other alternatives
- evacuated out
- regress back
- penetrate through
- speeding too fast
- a human person
- reiterate again
Do you have some favorites? Add them in the comments box below.
Writers’ Tricks of the Trade appears on Thursday in the Las Vegas edition and Friday in the Los Angeles edition. Visit http://writerstricksofthetrade.blogspot.com for more commentary and the links to issues of the Writers’ Tricks of the Trade monthly newsletter.
Morgan St. James co-authors the Silver Sisters Mysteries series, writes other novels and short stories. Her newly released Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction is available at most online bookstores or can be ordered from your favorite local bookstore.
Visit www.morganstjames-author.com and www.silversistersmysteries.com for more information.