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Using two words instead of one

Benjamin Dreyer has compiled a list of redundancies, surplus words to delete from your writing where you’ve used two words when one would do. Some are rather arcane (the word in italics is the surplus word) like “ABM missile“. Since ABM is an acronym of “anti-ballistic missile”, you essentially saying “anti-ballistic missile missile”. Yawn, right? But who hasn’t said, “ATM machine“?

Some of his examples are loathsome:

  • fiction novel
  • lesbian woman
  • past history
  • unthaw

Although he seems to have missed my particular hate, qualifying “unique”:

  • almost unique
  • fairly unique
  • quite unique
  • totally unique

It’s either one of a kind or it’s not!

Dreyer also identifies some cringeworthy pairings:

  • blend together
  • continue on
  • earlier in time
  • erupt (or explode) violently
  • few in number
  • glance briefly
  • join together
  • merge together
  • might possibly
  • overexaggerate
  • regular routine
  • shuttle back and forth
  • sink down
  • skirt around
  • slightly ajar
  • sudden impulse

And then there are ones that make you go, “Oh … yeah!” like:

  • disappear from sight
  • fall down
  • final outcome
  • free gift
  • mutual cooperation
  • passing fad
  • PIN number
  • preplan
  • swoop down
  • unexpected surprise
  • unsolved mystery

Q. What’s the most redundant redundancy you’ve ever encountered?
A. I recall it as if it were yesterday:

“He implied without quite saying.”

I was so filled with delight on encountering that, I scarcely had the heart to cross out “without quite saying” and to note in the margin, politely and succinctly, “by def.”

But I did it anyway.

Here’s Dreyer’s full list.

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