A hysterical interview with comedian Michael McIntyre on The Jonathan Ross Show prompted me to write about tautology – the use of unnecessary words. Michael was highlighting, in his own inimitable style, how Americans feel the need to simplify perfectly adequate English words. (Watch the clip here!)
To demonstrate, Michael cited examples including sidewalk (pavement), trash can (bin) and his personal favourite, horseback riding (horse-riding). It was extremely funny but he makes a serious point: many of us (and I include myself here) use unnecessary words in everyday life.
Consider these common culprits:
- Free gift (surely if it’s not free, it’s not a gift)
- File away
- Added bonus
- Grateful thanks
- Raze to the ground (that’s exactly what ‘raze’ – on its own – means)
- Revert back
- Set a new world record
- Rise up
- Unexpected surprise (if it wasn’t unexpected, it wouldn’t be a surprise)
And these are just a few examples that spring to mind.
The use of redundant words even has a name – ‘pleonasm’. Unlike grammar purists, I occasionally break my own rule for added emphasis (see what I did there) but do it too often or without thinking and it can make your writing woolly.
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