28 April 2012

Deja Vu All Over Again

by John M. Floyd

Driving home from the post office the other day, I heard a newsman on National Public Radio say someone "shared this in common" with someone else.  That bothered me.  (Not enough to make me switch to a rap or gospel music station, but it did bother me.)  I've forgotten exactly who he said was sharing something in common with whom, but--to use an example based on a Grisham book I'm currently reading--if you and your father are both baseball fans, you either share a love of baseball with your father or you and your father have that in common.  You don't share it in common, and if you say you do you've created a redundancy.

This kind of error can probably be forgiven more easily in speech than in writing.  We writers are supposed to know better, and to pay attention to things like that.  (So are NPR newscasters, actually.)  Not that I am guiltless.  Right here in this blog, I recently used the term added bonus.  That's a bit silly.  If it's a bonus, it is by definition added, and to use both words is redundant.  And in real life I'm always talking about something happening the exact same way it happened earlier.  Other phrases I use a lot are final outcomeplan ahead, and free gift.  Imagine how much time I would save and how much smarter I would sound if I cut out the words exactfinalahead, and free.  (There is of course a lesson here, one my wife learned years ago: don't listen too closely to me when I talk.)

Alternative choices

I know what you're thinking.  Sometimes phrases containing redundancies are used intentionally, to add emphasis.  Examples might be completely surroundedtruly sincereeach and everydefinite decisioncease and desistdirect confrontationforever and ever, etc.  Redundancies also come into play when using certain abbreviations, like UPC codeHIV virusplease RSVPDOS operating system, and AC current.  My favorite is PIN number.  But I still use the term.  The technically correct PI number just wouldn't roll off the tongue well, unless maybe you're referring to how many peach cobblers your aunt Bertha made last year.

A working awareness of this kind of thing can be handy to writers, because cutting out redundancies provides us with yet another way to "write tight."  An argument can even be made that such common and inoffensive phrases as sit downstand upnod your head, or shrug your shoulders are literary overkill as well, and do nothing except add extra words.  Why not just say (or write) sit, stand, nod, and shrug?  Where else would you stand but up?  What else would you shrug except your shoulders?

Unintentional Mistakes

Even if you're not a writer, here are a few more redundancies that come to mind:

twelve noon
sum total
commute back and forth
mental telepathy
advance reservations
drowned to death
merge together
observe by watching
armed gunman
visible to the eye
for all intents and purposes
hot-water heater
false pretense
hollow tube
disappear from sight
myself personally
a prediction about the future
safe haven
during the course of
regular routine
a variety of different items
filled to capacity
a pair of twins
unexpected surprise*
the reason is because
originally created
red in color
few in number
poisonous venom

could also mean a pair of twins

Do you ever find yourself using these (or similar) phrases when you speak?  More importantly, do you embarrass yourself by using them when you write?  I try to watch for--and correct--them in my own manuscripts, but I'm sure some of them manage to make it through intact.  Can you think of others that I neglected to mention?  Are there any that you find particularly irritating?

The End Result

Time for a confession, here: I will probably (and happily) continue to use many of these redundancies in everyday conversation, and even in writing if they're a part of dialogue.  Sometimes they just "sound right."  But I wouldn't want to use them in a column like this one.

In point of fact, lest any of you protest against forward progress, past history reveals an unconfirmed rumor that a knowledge of repetitious redundancy is an absolute essential and that the issue might possibly grow in size to be a difficult dilemma. If there are any questions about the basic fundamentals, I'll be glad to revert back and spell it out in detail. And even repeat it again.

Or maybe postpone it until later.


  1. How about the Dickens' title OUR MUTUAL FRIEND?

    a friend of mine (not a mutual one) wrote a song that mentioned a new surprise. REdundant I thought, but changed my mind. I then wrote a song arguing that love is The Same Old Surprise.

  2. A professor, or maybe I read it in one of those books on how to write, to write like you speak. So, I often include redundancies, among other incorrect usages, in my first drafts. It forces me to do what I’m sometime reluctant to do, rewrite.

  3. One example of when redundancy works is a line from Angela Thirkell's "Growing Up", where two upper-crust people discuss a very lower-crust sergeant as "our common friend".

  4. I wouldn't have thought of mutual friends and common friends as examples of this, but you're right, that makes sense. And Louis, I'm afraid my first drafts contain far worse things than mere redundancies. I too wind up doing a lot of rewriting.

    A close cousin is the cliche, and I'm guilty of using way too many of those, too.

  5. Herschel Cozine28 April, 2012 13:59

    One thing that has always puzzled me is the mention of a "more perfect" union in the Constitution. Not necessarily a redundancy, but in my mind unachievable.

    PS: My posts never seem to make it until several hours, (or even days) after I post them. Is there anything that can be done about it?

  6. For years whenever my mother or I would come across one of these the finder would turn to the other and say "an unnecessarily repetitious redundancy." The other would nod sagely and say "Yeah, reiterated over and over with the same meaning but with different words."

    I really miss my mother!

    On a different subject, Calico Joe was a nice little read, wasn't it?

  7. Yogi Berra once said that the Yankees lost the World Series because they made too many wrong mistakes.

    In an earlier comment which was not posted I wondered about the wording of the preamble to the Constitution about creating a "more perfect" union. Not a redundancy, of course. What would one call it?

  8. Herschel, your comments are now posted--sorry for the delay. They somehow got routed to a spam folder, heaven knows why. I and the other sayers of sleuth have been wrestling with our comment system for some time now. I apologize.

    Dale, I did indeed enjoy Calico Joe. It does what the best fiction usually does: it entertains while teaching a life lesson (in this case, forgiveness).

  9. I forgot to add: "This program was brought to you by the Department of Redndancy Department, which brought you this program."

    As I recall, when the Supreme Court had to rule about some cases involving the Civil War they argued that a "more perfect union" was harder to break up than a regularly perfect union, and this was an argument for interpreting the law as if the states had never left. Part of the legal principle that every word in a law means something. IANAL...

  10. John, if I remember correctly, "false pretense" is a specific crime of fraud in Mississippi. So the redundancy is made acceptable by statute.

    I remember an incident from years ago in which an employee at my workplace was sent to a seminar on how to be successful. When he was asked what he learned, he stated that the primary element to assure success is to have "self-confidence in yourself." I always wondered if that was the way the seminar instructor phrased it.

  11. Wayne, believe me, you don't want to start drawing any grammar conclusions based on the wording of our Mississippi statutes.

    As for the instructor you mentioned, I bet he'd be so pleased to know he's being used as an example! That would do a lot for his self-confidence in himself.

  12. It's deja vu all over again makes me want to violently attack the person that said it. I know Yogi Berra said it originally,but that's fine, he said a ton of redundant things as jokes. It's the idiots who think that is how to correctly say that you have experienced deja vu that make me see red. Surprisingly, most on the list never bothered me, I'm sure they will now. I'll notice them everytime now.


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