Tautology: are you guilty of wasting words?

You’d be amazed at how often we use more words than we need to express ourselves clearly. Tautology and redundant words (there’s tautology, right away) are everywhere in spoken and written English. If you had to pay per word, rather than pay per click, you could save fortunes by pruning the unnecessary words from almost every sentence you write.

Tautology: are you guilty of wasting words?

Recently I was browsing a wonderful book, “Troublesome Words,” by US-born, UK-based former UK Times and Independent journalist Bill Bryson. Given that Bill has a foot in each language market, I reckon he is one of the best authorities on common sense western English, especially for business.

In the book, Bill shares a number of examples where redundant words clutter sentences and should be chopped off like dead flower heads. Here are some of of them, along with some of my own favourites.

Think you’re not a tautology junkie? Try some of these…

Annual salary of XX p.a. (per annum)

3:00 a.m. in the morning (it’s either 3 o’clock in the morning, or 3:00 a.m. Even if you’re drunk and tired.)

As to whether (whether is enough.)

Both X and Y went to the same party 

Very unique (you don’t get more unique than unique.)

Climbed up (although you can, in theory, sometimes climb down)

First conceived (you only ever conceive once)

General consensus (consensus can only be general)

A slight frisson (frissons are usually slight; you don’t get dramatic or hysterical frissons.)

Each and every

Estimate that X is about so much

Front façade (façade, from French and Italian, always faces forward. This word is often used in the UK when architects mean “elevation.”)

Future plans (in this context, plans only exist for the future, surely?)

Plan ahead (can you plan backwards?)

Pre-planned (unless you plan to plan)

Opening gambit (in chess, at least, all gambits are opening moves)

Usual habit (habits can be unusual in nature, but are usual for habit-owner…)

Join together (tautology reaches even into wedding ceremonies)

Link together (is there any other way to link?)

Knots per hour (this makes sailors cringe. A knot is a nautical mile per hour.)

Period of time, moment in time, etc. (All long-winded ways of saying “now.)

Reason why, reason is because (reason is all you need.)

Revert back, reverse back (you can’t revert or reverse forward.)

Close scrutiny, careful scrutiny (scrutiny is always close and careful.)

Self-confessed (you’re the only one who can confess.)

Could picture in my mind (where else can you picture something?)

Thought to myself (to whom else can you think, unless you’re psychic?)

Various different (different things are usually various, and vice versa.)

Business writing quiz: how many grammar questions can you get right?
Grammar is groovy. Haven’t you heard?
Grammar: if you’re going to get it wrong, get it REALLY wrong…
Essential, er, grammar rules
Do you get the syntax attacks? Here’s the cure…
English language cringe makers: you need a sense of humor when you speak it
Does your spelling make you want to spit?

Lawyers: the worst tautology / redundant word tyrants of all

Bill Bryson has very rude things to say about lawyers, or rather the legal eagles who put together their seemingly ridiculous, long-winded terminology. Do any of these ring a bell with you?

Aid and abet

Null and void

Ways and means

Without let or hindrance

And how about my own favourites…

Costs and expenses

Horizontal plane

Agreement, obligation or undertaking

Grant of a relevant planning permission by the local planning authority (who else?)

What are your favourite tautologies and redundant words?

Troublesome WordsPlease share!

Troublesome Words” by Bill Bryson is available from Amazon; in the UK here, and in the USA here (slightly different version.)

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