Redundant Words and Phrases

I’ve often written about the great flexibility of English, and the wide range of options it affords those who use it. The downside to that, however, is that sometimes people’s English can get too complex and confusing. There are a few reasons for this. Sometimes, the point someone wants to make is quite complex and requires long and complex structures to be expressed. At other times, one might simply want to show off their vocabulary, or indulge in a little purple prose.

So even though English allows for a variety of registers in how one uses it, I firmly believe that one should keep one’s language as simple as possible.

Occasionally though, even the best of us can indulge ourselves, and one of the common results of this is the use of redundant words or phrases, though this can also be due to honest mistakes. Here are a few of the more common redundancies in English:

ATM machine and PIN number: these two abbreviations probably cause the two most common errors of redundancy, with the words machine and number both already contained within the abbreviation. I have some sympathy for those who say PIN number, and I know I’ve done it a few times myself, because PIN is so abrupt that it feels like a word should follow it.

Irregardless: I think this qualifies as a redundancy, as the initial I isn’t necessary, as the suffix -less already tells us that the word means without regard. If you want to be pedantic, you could say that the I cancels out -less, and it makes the word mean with regard. I think one of the main causes of this mistake is people wanting to sound clever, as lots of words beginning with ir are somewhat formal, e.g. irredeemable, irregular, irresponsible.

At the present moment: Again, I think this is used by people wanting to sound sophisticated: otherwise, why not just say at present?

I’m absolutely certain/It’s absolutely perfect: Ok, so something’s either perfect or it’s not, but I still don’t mind absolutely perfect so much, because it serves to emphasise and really clarify that we think something’s perfect. The same goes for absolutely certain: if you want someone to be really sure that you’re certain, why not through in absolutely?

I’m literally on my way: I won’t go into too much detail, as I’ve covered this before, but unless you’re talking about something with a literal meaning which could be mistaken for a figure of speech (e.g. I was literally jumping for joy), you don’t need to use literally. But more and more (two more‘s!?) it’s becoming used simply for emphasis.

Where are you at? Works perfectly fine without the at: this seems to be a fairly recent development in American English.

An added bonus: unless you’re adding a second bonus to a pre-existing one, added isn’t necessary, as a bonus by definition is additional.

False pretenses: a pretense is always false, but this is a case of Legalese being extra careful in making something clear to avoid confusion, a common cause for redundancy in legal jargon.

Foreign imports: where else are they going to come from?

Revert back: this just sends shivers down my spine when I see it! Again, people trying to sound smart is one of the most common causes of sounding stupid.

Advance notice/Plan ahead: I’m quite forgiving of these. Yes, both notice and planning assume foresight, but adding advance and ahead helps to emphasise that the actions are occurring nice and early. Studying for an important exam the night before is technically planning, but it’s hardly planning ahead, is it?

So, simple language is good: sometimes redundancy is ok.

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