Commentary: Department of Redundancy Department | KERA News

Commentary: Department of Redundancy Department

Dallas, TX –

I can't be the only one who's noticed the shoddy editing not only in newspapers and magazines, but also in books even in textbooks and best-sellers. Let's make that especially in best-sellers. Some authors seem to land on the best-seller list no matter what, so their publishers apparently give editing a short shrift.

Typos abound in books. So do errors in grammar, structure, and punctuation. Yet it's not unreasonable to expect wordsmiths to know their way around the world of words after all, the word is the only tool they have.

Admittedly, some grammar and structure problems can be vexing, but what excuses the gross redundancies that litter many books? How much skill does it take to know better than to write "free gift"? Characters in novels "shrug their shoulders" or "nod their heads" as if there's anything else to shrug or nod. One novelist referred to "continuous and non-stop noise." But "continuous" means "non-stop" does saying it twice make the noise more ceaseless? Such redundancies are as blind to what words mean as "completely decapitated" or "totally demolished."

Most of us commit redundancies in speech and should be forgiven. But writing offers a wonderful luxury: We can review and rewrite before dusting our hands and declaring the work as proficient as our talents will allow.

In editing, writers commune with themselves, and the questions involving redundancies are basic: Hmm, added bonus, eh? Isn't a bonus always "added"? And what's with "12 noon" and "12 midnight" and "10 a.m. in the morning"? Shouldn't that be noon, midnight, and 10 a.m.?

Even cursory editing reveals obvious redundancies such as these: end result, sum total, true fact, basic fundamental, potential promise, exact same, personal friend, round in shape, past experience, advance warning.

And more thoughtful editing unearths subtler gaffes "foreign imports," say, instead of just imports. All imports are foreign. Or "hot water heater" instead of water heater why heat it if it's already hot?

Some redundancies are overlooked because they've sneaked into our speech. "PIN number," for example. "P-I-N" means personal identification number, so "PIN number" means "personal identification number number." Ditto "ATM machine," which means "automated teller machine machine." And ditto "HIV virus," which means "human immunodeficiency virus virus."

An academic writer referred to his doctoral degree as a "doctorate degree," a redundancy because a doctorate is a degree.

The word new is often redundant. We read of "new recruits," but aren't all recruits new?

Sportswriters refer to "setting a new record," but, again, all records are new. How would you set an old record?

Business publications refer to "new innovations" and "new initiatives." But what would it be like to come up with old innovations and old initiatives?

Many redundancies are as illogical as they are repetitive. A finance writer, for example, suggested that a reader get a "temporary loan." But loans that aren't temporary aren't loans at all. They're gifts.

I bet they're not free gifts.

It's not only redundant to join words that have the same meaning, it's also flabby and unrefined and unnecessarily so in writing, where we have that rare chance to second-guess the way we express ourselves.

Paula LaRocque is a former editor and writing coach for the Dallas Morning News and the author of The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well.

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