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Linguistic crusade

As an erstwhile teacher of language arts, it fell to me to teach my students something about the principles of good writing. The three cardinal principles are clarity, economy and felicity.

For a variety of reasons, learning to write well is the most difficult of the four primary language arts (listening, speaking, reading and writing). I don’t have either the space or the expertise to provide you, gentle readers of Christian Courier, with a primer on the teaching of writing well; but, for goodness sake, please grant me a few words about the second of these principles.

Economy of writing involves using the fewest words necessary to make one’s meaning clear. (Personally, I think St. Paul must have missed rabbinical class when this lesson was taught; but I digress.) One of the chief sins against economy of expression is that of redundancy – writing or saying the same thing more than once without any apparent reason. I almost wrote, without any apparent reason why but that, my dear readers, is the most common and egregious example of this linguistic sin! The word reason already means why. In almost all cases reason can stand alone or be followed with the word that to make perfect sense. The why in reason why is redundant and totally unnecessary. I have, to my great regret, found this redundancy even in the pages of this fine publication. (My wife tells me to get a life.)

By the way, I have been making a collection of other redundancies I find in print or in speech and offer the following as (lamentable) examples:

  • Explain why (See above).
  • Answer back (This is a favourite of sports announcers. After a goal is scored they will say something like, “Well, let’s see if the Leafs* can answer back now that the Oilers have scored the first goal.” If I’m not mistaken an answer is, by definition, a reply. We seldom answer anything forward, do we?)
  • *  Bonus question: Why is it the Toronto Maple Leafs and not Leaves?
  • Continue on, as in “Let’s continue on with that train of thought.” (Doesn’t continue already mean moving forward or keeping doing the same thing?)
  • Pre-plan (This one completely baffles me. I’ve always assumed that to plan means doing something in preparation before it happens. So does pre-planning mean planning to plan? Couldn’t we get into an infinite regress here?)
  • Mix together, combine together, blend together, unite all of us together (Yikes, all of these boggle the mind. Mixing, combining, blending and uniting all imply the notion of togetherness. For Pete’s sake, just mix the butter with the flour and forget about together all together!)
  • Really/truly unique (Unique means one-of-a-kind; you can’t be even more one-of-a-kind because then you weren’t unique to begin with.)
  • One and only (Only already means one.)
  • Lead forward (Leading implies moving forward, doesn’t it?)
  • Three consecutive years in a row (Three years in a row are, by definition, consecutive.)
  • Mutual cooperation (Is there a form of cooperation that isn’t mutual?)
  • Linking together (I can’t imagine linking something apart.)

These are just a few of the redundancies I have collected in the last few weeks. I would be grateful if observant readers would send me (by email) other examples of this utterly wasteful use of language. So, if you can explain why people write and talk this way, please answer me back so that I can continue on with my collection of these truly unique horrors of English expression and use your suggestions to pre-plan other exciting columns like this one. Thank you.  

Author

  • Bob Bruinsma

    Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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