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Pleonasms Are a Bit Much
The term pleonasm comes from pleonazein, a Greek word that means “more than enough.” When you use a pleonasm, you are
The jolly man was happy
is a pleonasm: The man was happy says the same thing without the unnecessary addition of “jolly.”
Serious writers want to make their point with a minimum of fuss and clutter. Nothing says fuss and clutter like an ill-advised pleonasm, which can come
across as long-winded, pompous, ignorant, laughable, or any combination thereof.
Some pleonasms are obvious (true fact, free gift), others are less noticeable (pick and choose, young boy). They hide
in our writing, then jump out and jeer at us for not catching them when we had the chance.
Here is a selection of pleonasms from a variety of sources:
PIN is an acronym for “personal identification number.” So a PIN number is a personal identification number number.
“Woman arrested after
The creator of this headline forgot that all arguments are verbal.
“GED graduation begins with unexpected surprise” Is it a surprise if it’s expected?
“Tips from a
project management nerd”
Too bad the author of this post wasn’t also a language nerd: self-confessed is a classic pleonasm.
“I’m trying to decide
whether or not
someone’s worth dating”
Delete “or not” and you’ve said the same thing.
“So blind he can’t see”
This is a line from “Drink Up and Go Home,” a country song from the fifties. It’s supposed to be poignant, but the pleonasm is a
“I’m told you are a very clever genius”
Attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, American movie mogul (1879-1974).
Some pleonasms are used intentionally, for emphasis. An exasperated mother tells her unruly child, “Never, ever do that again!” Few
parents would second-guess that “ever.” A jilted lover writes to his sweetheart that she has left him “utterly
devastated.” The poor man is swept up in the trauma and drama of rejection. Who would be so peevish as to inform him that, technically,
“devastated” by itself gets the point across?
In A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage Cornelia and Bergen Evans defend purposeful pleonasms: “A man who never said an unnecessary
word would say very little during a long life and would not be pleasant company … In writing, as in conversation, an economical use of words is not
always what we want.”
However, we think the Evanses would agree that a mindless redundancy is not ever what we want.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
The sentences below contain pleonasms. Which words or phrases could be removed with no change in meaning? (Example: the word true in true fact is superfluous.) Our answers are below.
1. Too late the soldiers realized that they were surrounded on all sides.
2. Randy wore a big smile on his face.
3. When we saw the final results, we were all in shock.
4. We were given a grand tour of the capitol building.
5. Rachelle has been appointed to the post of director of information.
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The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.
When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.
A bicycle can’t stand alone; it is two tired.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. on all sides
2. on his face
5. to the post of
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.