Do you repeat redundancies over and over? Find out now!
by Kathy Steinemann
Hello there. How are you today? Are you ready to test out your redundancy eye?
You might ask, “Why should I care about redundancies?”
Before we begin, I’ll answer that question.
Redundancies are superfluous words or phrases also known as pleonasms: the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.
Pleonasm is an unfamiliar term to some people, which is why I and other writers often refer to unnecessary words as redundancies.
Rather than augment writing, these extra words slow down action scenes and increase word count — without adding helpful details.
Did you notice the strikeouts in the previous paragraphs? Each strikeout represents a redundancy. If I were intentionally bloating this post, I might leave them in. However, they’re just useless padding.
Oh, wait. I guess I did leave them in, and that means they still count as words. Oops, sorry, Anne, I needed them to illustrate my point.
A Few Words About the Quiz
Below you’ll find fourteen sentences that contain redundancies, and fourteen suggested solutions. They’re revised examples from books, news, social media, television shows, and conversations.
Scrutinize the examples and try to find the pleonasms. Will you score 100%?
Welcome to the Promenade of Useless Redundancies
- The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.
- The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.
- If the pump doesn’t perform as expected, you’ll be eligible for a full refund of the money that you paid for it.
- They couldn’t have been more different. They were total polar opposites.
- A hunter picked up the lion’s scent spoor and tracks fortuitously by accident.
- The writer tried various different phrases, but none of them seemed to fit the context.
- The most quintessential obsession of Pauline’s existence was the consumption of coffee, coffee, COFFEE.
- The new scanner reads UPC codes much faster than the old one.
- The toddler threw a noisy temper tantrum when his mother took away the toy.
- They had reached a critical juncture — which of the options should they choose?
- They didn’t have the same resources now that they used to have before.
- Just to be on the safe side, Bryan decided to cram a medical kit into his bulging knapsack.
- We need more information about exactly what that means.
- The both of them knew that they were in for a severe trouncing.
The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.
community: a group of people who live in the same place or share particular characteristics
diverse: many different types of people or things
Note how the definitions embrace the meanings of the deleted words.
Alternative edit: The village was home to many people with diverse talents.
Choose the connotation that matches your storyline.
The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.
obliterate: make invisible by obscuring
If something is invisible, can it be partially invisible? If not, we don’t need to mention that it’s entirely invisible.
When readers visualize the sun obliterated by thick clouds, they’ll imagine a dark sky. We don’t need to mention the darkness.
Other phrases to beware:
- entirely by chance
- entirely decimated
- entirely inappropriate
- entirely natural
- entirely surrounded
- entirely [fill in the blank]
Whenever you encounter entirely or one of its synonyms, question its necessity.
If the pump doesn’t perform as expected, you’ll be eligible for a full refund of the money that you paid for it.
refund: money that is given back or repaid
If buyers are repaid or given back the money they paid for something, of course it would be a full refund. Of the money that you paid is included in the definition of refund.
Alternative edit: If the pump malfunctions, we’ll issue a refund.
This sentence is more direct. Why say that consumers will be eligible for a refund? They’ll receive a refund. Period. A responsible manufacturer shouldn’t make people fight for their refunds, and a happy customer is usually a repeat customer.
They couldn’t have been more different. They were total polar opposites.
polar opposite: complete opposite
complete: absolute, total
According to the preceding definitions, the second sentence of the original example could be interpreted as They were total complete opposite opposites. Awkward, right?
Alternative edit: Delete the second sentence entirely. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. (See Edit #2.)
A hunter picked up the lion’s scent spoor and tracks fortuitously by accident.
fortuitously: happening by accident or chance
spoor: the track or scent of a person or animal
Unless this is a story about a character such as Tarzan, the likelihood of tracking by scent is negligible. That leaves a single option: tracks.
As written, the original sentence could be rendered as The hunter picked up the lion’s tracks and tracks fortuitously by accident by accident.
Alternative edit: A hunter picked up the lion’s spoor by accident.
This is my preferred version.
The writer tried various different phrases, but none of them seemed to fit the context.
various: different or diverse
none: not any
Various embraces the definition of different, and seemed to is fluff. Do events seem to happen, or do they happen? Period. The phrases didn’t fit the context. Full stop. Although of them might pass muster with many readers and editors, it’s unnecessary.
Alternative edit: The writer tried several phrases, but none fit the [narrative, plot, storyline].
The most quintessential obsession of Pauline’s existence was the consumption of coffee, coffee, COFFEE.
quintessential: the most perfect or distinctive example of a person or thing
Can anything be more perfect than most perfect? Most is superfluous.
The consumption of might escape an editor’s eye, but readers will assume that Pauline’s obsession embraces the consumption of coffee. What else would she do with it? apply it to her hair? sprinkle it in her bathwater? sniff it? Hmm. Story prompts?
The new scanner reads UPC codes UPCs much faster than the old one.
UPC: universal product code
The original sentence could be rewritten as The new scanner reads universal product code codes much faster than the old one.
More problematic phrases
- ARC copy ARC: advance reader copy
- ASIN number ASIN: Amazon standard identification number
- GN novel GN: graphic novel
- ISBN number ISBN: international standard book number
- LOI letter LOI: letter of introduction
- MSRP price MSRP: manufacturer’s suggested retail price
- RRP price RRP: Recommended retail price
- SASE envelope SASE: self-addressed, stamped envelope
The toddler threw a noisy temper tantrum when his mother took away the toy.
tantrum: a loss of one’s temper in a noisy and uncontrolled way.
Now envision a toddler throwing a tantrum: yelling, stomping feet, throwing toys — not a silent scenario, right?
The definition of tantrum includes noisy and temper.
If you don’t like tantrum, try a synonym such as conniption, hissy fit, hysterics, or meltdown:
- had a conniption, went into conniptions
- [had, threw] a hissy fit
- [broke, went] into hysterics
- [had, experienced, suffered] a meltdown
They had reached a critical juncture — which of the options should they choose?
juncture: a critical point when a decision must be made
After this many examples with definitions, I shouldn’t have to justify the strikeout.
Some editors might remove the em dash and following words. However, I think the question adds to the story. This illustrates the importance of a writer’s situational judgment.
They didn’t have the same resources now that they used to have before.
used to: something (familiar or routine) from the past that no longer applies
Drumroll. Your dictionary is your friend, folks.
- They didn’t have the same resources anymore.
- They no longer [enjoyed, had] the same resources.
Just to be on the safe side, Bryan decided to cram crammed a medical kit into his bulging knapsack.
Writing is usually better without phrases like the following:
- chose to
- decided to
- determined to
- elected to
- opted to
- resolved to
It’s more direct to have characters just do something, unless their actions follow indecision that plays a role in the storyline.
cram: to stuff a container so full that it seems to be overflowing
Readers will assume that if Bryan has to cram a medical kit into his knapsack, it will be bulging.
We need more information about exactly what that means.
exactly: without discrepancy, accurately, precisely
Remember what I said in Edit #11 about your dictionary? Ditto.
Even better: We need more information about that.
The bBoth of them knew that they were in for a severe trouncing.
both: referring to two people or things
trouncing: severe punishment or defeat
If you can substitute both with the two, you don’t need the both.
- Both parrots could talk. (The two parrots could talk.)
- He chastised both of them. (He chastised the two of them.)
- She loved both men. (She loved the two men.)
How Did You Do with your Redundancies?
You probably have more edit suggestions. I’d love to see them.
by Kathy Steinemann (@KathySteinemann) June 13, 2021
What about you, scriveners? Do you have more edit suggestions for Kathy? What are your favorite redundancies? I know I use “on the safe side” a lot. Did you know the word “pleonasm”? It was a new one to me. I always learn stuff from Kathy!
About Kathy Steinemann
Kathy Steinemann, Grandma Birdie to her grandkids, loves words — especially when the words are frightening or futuristic or funny.
As a child, she scribbled prose and poetry, and won public-speaking and writing awards. As an adult, she worked as a small-town paper editor, and taught a couple of college courses. She has won or placed in multiple short fiction contests.
If you were to follow her around for a day, you might see her wince when a character on TV says “lay” instead of “lie” or when a social media post confuses “your” with “you’re.” And please don’t get her started on gratuitous apostrophes in pluralized words.
Her popular books in The Writer’s Lexicon series are touted by writers as “phenomenal,” a “secret weapon,” and “better than a thesaurus.”
Image by chenspec from Pixabay