The Department of Redundancy Department, Part 2: Pleonasm

8

In a previous post, I introduced the problem of redundant writing and discussed the first of two kinds of redundancy: tautology. This post will look at the second kind: pleonasm.

Tautology, we learned, is a repetition of the same idea in different words. Pleonasm, on the other hand, is simply using more words than necessary. In a pleonasm, at least one word is redundant because its meaning is already implied.

Examples of common pleonasms include:

  • advance warning — If it doesn’t come in advance it isn’t much of a warning.
  • advance planning — It doesn’t do much good to plan something after it’s over.
  • cash money — Pick one.
  • close proximity — Proximity means closeness.
  • mix together — Have you ever tried to mix something apart?
  • component parts — A component is a part.
  • descend down — That’s the only direction you can descend.
  • empty hole — Once it’s filled in, it’ s no longer a hole.
  • exact replica — A replica is an exact copy.
  • foreign imports — Imports always come from foreign places.
  • frozen tundra — If it’s not frozen, it’s not tundra.
  • hot water heater — Who needs this? Hot water doesn’t need heating!
  • young child — A child, by definition, is young.
  • new recruit — After a while, you are no longer a recruit.
  • overused cliche — Its overuse is what makes an expression cliche.
  • redundant pleonasm — No explanation needed.
  • repeat again — Unless you’ve already repeated it, you don’t repeat it again.
  • return back — That’s the way you always return.
  • safe haven — If it ain’t safe, it ain’t a haven.
  • sudden impulse — You don’t ever take your time when acting impulsively.

I bet you’ve said or written some of these yourself. I know I have. Most of them are so common in our language that they just roll off the tongue (or the pen). In fact, they are so common that few people will ever notice them. Still, my advice is to wean these pleonasms from your writing simply because it will make your prose tighter and more precise.

RAS Syndrome

There is another kind of pleonasm that has its own category. It’s adding a word to an acronym that is already abbreviated in the acronym itself. Perhaps the most common of these is PIN number. Which is short for Personal Identification Number number. People who do this habitually are facetiously said to suffer from RAS syndrome (Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome) or even PNS syndrome (PIN number syndrome syndrome, or, more fully, Personal Identification Number number syndrome syndrome).

In order to avoid the charge of RAS or PNS syndrome, you should avoid pleonasms like:

  • ATM machine — Automated Teller Machine machine
  • LCD display — Liquid Crystal Display display
  • PC computer — Personal Computer computer
  • HIV virus — Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus
  • AC current — Alternating Current current
  • CNN news network — Cable News Network network
  • DMZ zone –– Demilitarized Zone zone
  • ICBM missile — Intercontinental Ballistic Missile missile

I love this stuff. Stay tuned for one more post on other related and interesting redundancies.

  *****

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Seolyk
    Seolyk06-03-2015

    Sorry for the double post, but you can also have a partially filled hole.

  2. Seolyk
    Seolyk06-03-2015

    If you fill a hole with water, it is still a hole. It’s just full of water instead of watever the surrounding material is.

    Unless the surrounding material is a large amount of dirt, then that hole has potentially become a lake.

  3. Bob Shaizer
    Bob Shaizer09-24-2013

    I still don’t understand the difference. Isn’t “a repetition of the same idea in different words”
    the same as “using more words than necessary”?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-24-2013

      No, not necessarily. Although repeating the same idea in different words necessarily requires using more words than necessary, using more words than necessary does not necessarily require repeating the same idea in different words.

      ATM machine is an example of a pleonasm that isn’t a tautology. It repeats the same word: machine (although one is abbreviated).

      “Advanced warning” does not repeat the same idea. It just uses a word that is unnecessary because it is implied in the other word.

      I hope that helps.

      The difference between a tautology and a pleonasm is subtle and not all that important.

  4. Josh Klauder
    Josh Klauder04-28-2013

    Good post, but you are wrong about Tundra! Better look it up. 🙂

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko04-28-2013

      I did, Josh. You are right. I corrected it. Better?

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