19 February 2022

Deja Vu All Over Again . . . One Last Time

Today I'm doing something different: I'm posting a column that was previously featured almost ten years ago at this blog. I wrote and ran "Deja Vu All Over Again" in April 2012, less than a year after several of us former Criminal Briefers established SleuthSayers, and although the subject of this post is not original, I think it still applies to the fiction we write. Anyhow, since I've run into some unexpected health problems at the moment, I'm falling back on this reprint, and I hope to be up and functioning again shortly. If you remember reading this post I hope you'll indulge me in my repetition, especially since this is a column about repetition, and if you don't remember reading it I hope you'll find it informative. -- JF

Driving home from the post office the other day, I heard a newsman on National Public Radio say someone "shared something 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 whomever, 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 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 be forgiven more easily in speech than in writing. 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 at 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 outcome, free gift, and plan ahead. Imagine how much time I would save and how much smarter I would sound if I cut out the words exact, final, free, and ahead

Alternative choices

I know what you're thinking. Sometimes phrases containing redundancies are used intentionally, to add emphasis. Examples might be completely surrounded, truly sincere, each and every, definite decision, cease and desist, direct confrontation, forever and ever, etc. Redundancies also come into play when using certain abbreviations, like UPC code, HIV virus, please RSVP, DOS 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. 

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 down, stand up, nod your head, and 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
  • overexaggerate
  • false pretense
  • hollow tube
  • fictional novel
  • 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
  • pre-recorded
  • 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 out 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 simply "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 the 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 to be asked 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. 

Hoping to be back with you in two weeks.


  1. John, I hope you are feeling better!

  2. First, I hope you will recover soon, John.

    Great column. It's good to be reminded of redundancies. I'll copy your examples and add them to my "rewrite-folder." I'm sure I'll need them. Thanks!

    Your last sentences at the end are hilarious and funny at the same time!

  3. Excellent posting. Hope you get better soon. Or as my uncle would say, "Hope y'all get more better soon."

  4. Get well soon, John. We need more columns like this. And they need to be repeated to make the point completely clear.

  5. At the risk of being redundant, I join everyone else in wishing you a speedy recovery.

  6. John, hoping you get well soon and have a speedy recovery too. As for redundancies, maybe ten years ago, newscasters were supposed to know better, but nowadays they get a free pass.

    1. Oops, I meant to say, ten years ago, they USED to know better.
      And when I woke up this morning, the first thought in my head was: FREE GIFT!

  7. "This program was brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department, which brought you this program." ATM machines. And, of course, Charles Dickens novel title Our Mutual Friend. Feel betta.

  8. John, I hope you're feeling better soon! Take care, man.

  9. Feel better soon. Loved this column. Loved that last sentence. My favorite is eligible bachelor.

  10. Feel better, John!

    Ignorant fool ... not calling *you* that, it's just another redundancy I've heard.

    1. Well, there is a whole folklore category called the wise fool... Which reminds me, decades ago I heard a song which referred to "new surprises." So I wrote a song about love called "The Same Old Surprise."

  11. Our Criminal Brief friend ABA had commented upon the American wording of horseback riding.

  12. Hope you feel better soon, John. I am one of a pair of twins ~wink, wink~ and we were an unexpected surprise! Ha ha! Thanks for sharing, always good to be reminded.

  13. John, we need you up and at 'em. Get well, my friend.

  14. Get well soon, John!
    Re "originally created" I think that one can be excusable - not in the order it's presented, but as in the sentence, "it was created originally to do ____, but now it's primarily used to ____."

  15. Thanks, friends, for all the comments, and the kind well-wishes. Much appreciated!

    I like the examples--especially horseback riding. (I'd never thought of that redundancy.)

    1. :) Glad you're still with us! Hearts and flowers to you!

  16. Good column, John, and at the risk of repeating what others have said -- hope you're feeling better soon!


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