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This post pertains to varieties of pleonasms, instances of verbal redundancy, which are usually a sign of careless or lazy writing (though some are employed for rhetorical effect).
The word pleonasm stems from the Greek term pleonazein, meaning “to be excessive,” and is related to plenty, plural, and plus.
One type of redundancy is onomastic pleonasm (that’s one of my favorite phrases), in which a word derived from a foreign language referring to a type of geographical feature is redundantly paired with the English equivalent of that word to describe some such feature, as with “Sahara Desert” (proper usage is “the Sahara”) or “Mount Fujiyama” (Fujiyama, or “Mount Fuji”). However, some redundancy is tolerated, as in the case of “the River Avon”/“the Avon River” (though the various rivers so named, like many others, are often referred to without the categorical name: “the Avon”) and “the La Brea Tar Pits.”
Another is acronymic pleonasm, in which an acronym or initialism serves as an adjective for a noun already represented by one of the initials in the abbreviation, as in “ATM machine” or “CAD design.” (A related redundancy is “Please RSVP”; the acronym is an abbreviation of the French phrase “Repondez si’l vous plait,” meaning, “Respond, if you please.”) And speaking of abbreviations, e.g. (or its translation, “for example”) explicitly signals that one or more examples will be listed, so avoid tagging etc. onto the end of a list preceded by the abbreviation or the phrase (though etc. is not redundant to i.e., which means “that is”).
Redundancies often occur in phrases in which the meaning of an adjective is implicit in the noun, as in “new recruit,” “specific example,” and “temporary reprieve” or phrases in which the redundancy follows, rather than precedes, the sufficient word (“add up,” “postpone until later,” “repeat again”). Also, edit phrases in which a stated quality is already implied (“few in number,” “green in color.)”
Forgivable pleonasms include those in which the original meaning of a word has been subverted so that a clarifying adjective is required. For example, until a few decades ago, clocks were analogue, or mechanical. When digital timekeeping devices became the default type, it became necessary to sometimes qualify a description to “analog clock.” Likewise, in law and law enforcement, doublets such as “aid and abet” “breaking and entering,” and “cease and desist,” which are not literally redundant but appear so, persist.
However, writers and speakers should both cease and desist employing such pleonasms as “each and every,” “first and foremost,” and (shudder) “way, shape, or form.” In addition, two words that are usually implicitly pleonastic are currently and different; in “He is currently on vacation,” the present-tense verb renders currently superfluous, and in “They tried a variety of different strategies,” different is extraneous because variety is sufficient to convey distinction. Another word to monitor is completely when it is paired with a verb that implies finality, such as destroyed or eradicated, and avoid qualifying necessary with a qualifier such as absolutely.
Finally, Great Authors have employed pleonasm as a literary device, but unless you are a Great Author, minimize such flourishes as “I saw it with my own eyes.”
A previous post listed words such as constitute that ultimately stem from the Latin verb stare, meaning “stand.” Here, stance (from the present participle of stare), and words in which stance is the root, as well as terms related to those words, are listed and defined.
A stance is a literal or figurative attitude or posture or a position in which a person stands to prepare to engage in athletic activity. (Stand is from Old English and is distantly related.) Constance (“standing with”), meaning “steadfastness,” is an obsolete term (and a rare female given name), as is its synonym constancy, but the adjectival form constant persists to mean “steadfast” as well as “invariable” or “uniform” as well as “regular.” The adverbial form is constantly, and the antonym is inconstant.
Circumstance (“standing around”) means “condition, detail, event, or fact associated with another,” or pertains to evidence that supports the likelihood of an event (as in the phrase “circumstantial evidence”); circumstances is a euphemism alluding to financial resources (for example, one said to be in straitened circumstances is poor).
Distance (“standing apart”) is the space between two points in space or time, or the quality of being spatially or emotionally remote or intellectually dispassionate; the adjectival form is distant, and distantly is the adverbial form. (Distantness is a rarely used noun referring to the quality of being distant.) One can also describe a far point or area as “the distance,” as in the phrase “looking out into the distance.”
An instance (“standing on”) is an example or an occasion; the word can also be a verb meaning “cite” or “demonstrate”; in legal terminology, it pertains to the pursuit of a lawsuit. Instant means “a very small point at time”; an additional, outdated sense is “the current month,” seen abbreviated in historical correspondence in phrases such as “in your letter of the 15th inst.,” meaning “the letter you sent on the 15th of this month.” As an adjective, instant means “current,” “immediate,” or “urgent” or refers to something ready-made or able to be prepared very quickly and/or very easily; instantly is the adverbial form. The adjective instantaneous means “occurring immediately,” and its adverbial form is instantaneously. The verb instantiate is a synonym for “embody” or “express.”
A substance (“standing under”) is any physical material, but substance also pertains to essence, meaning, and quality. Euphemistically, it refers to property or wealth, as in the phrase “a man of substance.” In reference to addictive or otherwise harmful substances, it is used in the phrases “controlled substance” and “substance abuse.” The adjective substantial has multiple senses, including “essential” or “true,” or “considerable” or “sturdy.” Substantial can also be a noun meaning “something of substance,” and the quality of being substantial is substantiality or substantialness, and the adverbial form is substantially.
Assistance is the act of assisting, or helping, a person or another entity. (Assist literally means “stand by.”) Desistance refers to desisting, or ceasing to assist; the noun is little used, but desist (“stop standing”), though rarely employed otherwise, is widely known from the legal phrase “cease and desist,” which pertains to a demand to stop infringing on a right, such as copyright. Resistance is the act of opposing or an opposing force or a source of opposition, the capacity to resist (“stand again”), or a behavior in which a patient opposes psychological therapy; capitalized, the noun has referred to various organizations that covertly oppose a force occupying a country or other geopolitical territory.
In each of the following sentences, the wrong punctuation has been employed to aid in organization of a sentence. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and a revision demonstrates the solution.
1. Ensure that you have an escape route while driving in traffic, drive at a speed that places your vehicle outside clusters of vehicles.
This sentence suffers from a comma splice—the use of a comma to separate two independent clauses. A more potent punctuation mark should be used instead: “Ensure that you have an escape route while driving in traffic; drive at a speed that places your vehicle outside clusters of vehicles” (Alternatively, a dash could replace the comma, or the content could be divided into two sentences. Or, because the second clause is an extension of the first one, a colon would be appropriate.)
2. An executive in the organization perceives a need for change, a digitalization project, for example, that will help pull the company ahead of its competitors.
When a parenthesis within a parenthesis occurs, use distinct punctuation marks to aid the reader in recognizing the hierarchy of the sentence elements; retain commas for one parenthetical element within another, and employ dashes or parentheses to frame the more significant interjection: “An executive in the organization perceives a need for change—a digitalization project, for example—that will help pull the company ahead of its competitors.”
3. For example, implement processes that generate sources of new learning; encourage systemic thinking in distilling and acting on the environment feedback received; and facilitate effective listening to customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders with the objective of driving continuous improvement.
When one or more items in a list themselves include lists, semicolons serve as supercommas to distinguish the two levels of organization. However, they function only if the sentence ends with the final list item. If a phrase that applies to all list items follows the final list item, as “with the objective of driving continuous improvement” does here, the final semicolon “traps” that phrase so that it appears to apply only to that item.
To avoid this error, revise the sentence to eliminate the use of semicolons: “For example, implement processes that generate sources of new learning as well as those that encourage systemic thinking in distilling and acting on the environment feedback received and facilitate effective listening to customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders with the objective of driving continuous improvement.”
This post discusses the use of quotation marks to distinguish dialogue, parts of compositions, phrases as phrases, scare quotes, and epithets.
1. For Dialogue
Quotation marks are placed around speech in fiction (to distinguish it from attribution and narrative) and nonfiction (for the same reasons, in addition to emphasizing that it is recorded verbatim and not a paraphrase of the actual wording). Quotation marks are also appropriate for conjectural speech (for example, “What if he says, ‘We’re using John’s plan instead’?) or for representing the idea of speech (“People often say ‘myself’ when they should say ‘me’).
Note: In examples in this and other posts, quoted material is often enclosed in single rather than double quotation marks because I use double quotation marks to frame the examples. In American English, other than in special cases such as setting off terms in botany, linguistics, and philosophy, this is the only general purpose for single quotation marks.
2. For Parts of Compositions
Note: The following rules pertain to when titles of parts of compositions are referenced in a written narrative, not to their use as headings in the source material itself.
Quotation marks identify article titles in publications and chapter titles in books to distinguish the parts of the whole from the whole itself. (Italicize the publication titles themselves; one exception is unpublished manuscripts, the titles of which are also enclosed in quotation marks.) Similarly, episodes of television programs, as well as those of other audiovisual (or audio-only) presentations such as podcasts, should be enclosed in quotation marks, while program titles are italicized. Song titles, too, are placed in quotation marks to distinguish them from album titles.
Quotation marks also identify poems, essays, and short stories to distinguish their titles from those of the anthologies of which they may be (or might originally have been) a part. In online contexts, titles of blog entries, and those of sections of websites, are enclosed in quotation marks. Titles of speeches, as well as those of talks and panels that are part of conferences and other formal meeting events, are also so emphasized.
3. For a Phrase as a Phrase
Although self-referential words are italicized (as in “Moon and month are related”), phrases as phrases are enclosed in quotation marks (as in “‘Reared its ugly head’ is a cliché.”)
4. For Scare Quotes
Words and phrases are sometimes enclosed in quotation marks to signal that they are being used in a special sense, though this usage is best reserved for ironic emphasis or to clarify that the writer is using but not endorsing the term. Employing such emphasis for slang is not advised.
5. For Epithets
When nicknames are used in isolation, do not enclose them in quotation marks (“The film was released four months after the death of the King of Pop”). But do so when they appear within or after the person’s actual name: “John ‘Duke’ Wayne,” “Erwin Rommel, ‘the Desert Fox.’” (But compare the latter with “Alexander the Great lived to be only thirty-three,” in which “Alexander the Great” is so styled because the epithet is integrated with the name, not set off by punctuation.)
Discussions below explain the mistakes in the examples given, which err in mistaking essential and nonessential clauses and vice versa. A revision accompanying each sample sentence demonstrates correct form.
An essential (or restrictive) word, phrase, or clause is one that is necessary for conveying the intended meaning of a sentence. When the essential element follows the core of the main clause, the conjunction that serves as the link between them. By contrast, a nonessential (or nonrestrictive) word, phrase, or clause is attached to the main clause, trailing a comma and the conjunction which. (Alternatively, nonessential elements are inserted parenthetically into the sentence with commas, dashes, or parentheses, but this post does not pertain to that type of sentence construction.)
Actually, that and which are interchangeable as conjunctions preceding essential elements, but some writing handbooks advocate using only that in such cases to avoid confusion with sentences with nonessential elements, for which which is the only correct conjunction. In American English, at least, many careful writers observe this distinction, a strategy I strongly recommend.
The writers of the two examples below have, in constructing the sentences, confused essential and nonessential clauses, as explained in the discussion following each statement.
She faulted him for criticizing the Dodd-Frank Act that sought to overhaul the US financial sector following the recession.
The wording of this sentence suggests that of various Dodd-Frank acts, the one in question is the one that sought to overhaul the US financial sector following the recession, and therefore the description of the intent of the act is essential, because it pertains to this Dodd-Frank Act. But the part of the sentence that follows that describes the intent of the only existing Dodd-Frank Act. Therefore, the clause that begins with sought provides additional information that should be appended to the main clause, “She faulted him for criticizing the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act,” with a comma and the conjunction which: “She faulted him for criticizing the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which sought to overhaul the US financial sector following the recession.”
More than 60 percent of companies have suffered a cybersecurity compromise in the past year, which exposed confidential information and disrupted systems and operations.
Setting the modifying phrase “exposed confidential information and disrupted systems and operations” off as a subordinate clause beginning with which creates the mistaken impression that the fact that a majority of companies experienced a hack during the previous year had the unfortunate results specified. But the phrase pertains to individual cybersecurity compromises, not to the preponderance of such experiences. The phrase is essential to the sentence—it describes hacking incidents that had specific results—and so should be integrated into the main clause, as shown here: “More than 60 percent of companies have suffered a cybersecurity compromise in the past year that exposed confidential information and disrupted systems and operations.”
Myth, originally a word of elevated and scholarly pretension, has passed into the vernacular to describe anything of dubious truth or validity, though it retains earlier senses. This post lists definitions of the word and others of which it is the root.
The word derives from the Greek term mythos, which variously means “speech” or “story,” or even “thought.” In modern English usage, a myth is a story, often featuring heroes and deities or supernatural entities, that explains a belief, custom, phenomenon, or worldview; it is also a synonym for allegory or parable. By extension, a myth is a belief or tradition, often one integral to a society, or an invalid notion born of ignorance or bigotry, or simply a rumor or untrue story. (Myth, without the article, denotes a body of myths.) An urban myth, meanwhile, is an account of an unusual or inexplicable event that did not occur, or state that does not exist, that is widely assumed to be true. The primary adjectival form is mythical; it is also used in the sense of “imaginary,” but mythic is appropriate for referring to astonishing achievements.
Mythology pertains to a set of myths, the study of myths, or an allegory, or to an assumption or belief. A mythologist (or, sometimes, mythologer) is someone who studies myths. Mythos is a synonym for both myth and mythology and denotes a symbolic set of cultural attitudes as well.
Mythogenesis is the development of myths or the tendency to ascribe mythical status to something. Mythopoeia, too, refers to the creation of myth. To mythicize is to turn something into, or treat something as, a myth; mythologize also has the latter meaning. Conversely, to demythologize is to analyze the meaning of myths or to unromanticize them. (A countermyth, meanwhile, is a myth that challenges or contradicts another myth.)
A mythmaker is someone who creates myths, generally in the casual sense of beliefs or traditions or of reputations about a person, place, or thing. A mythomaniac (or, sometimes, mythomane), meanwhile, is a pathological liar or exaggerator; the condition is called mythomania.
An etymologically related word is stichomythia (“verse speech”), denoting argumentative repartee, especially as a dramatic device in the performing arts.
This post lists and defines terms for apparel materials that have in common that the terms are derived from place names.
1. angora: a type of wool from Angora rabbits, which originated near Ankara (previously Angora), Turkey 2. Bedford cord: a corduroy-like fabric, named after Bedford, England, or New Bedford, Massachusetts 3. calico: a type of cloth originally from Calicut, India 4. cambric: a type of cloth originally from Cambrai, France 5. cashmere: a type of wool and a woolen fabric from Kashmir goats, which come from the Kashmir region of India 6. chino cloth: a cloth originating in China (the name is Spanish for “Chinese”) 7. Cordovan leather: a type of shoe leather first produced in Cordoba, Spain 8. damask: a type of fabric named after Damascus, Syria 9. denim: a type of fabric originally called serge de Nîmes, or “serge of Nîmes,” after Nîmes, a town in France 10. dungaree: a type of denim cloth originating in Dongrī, India; pants or overalls made from this fabric are called dungarees 11. duffel: a cloth first made in Duffel, Belgium 12. Harris tweed: a type of handwoven tweed cloth originating on the island of Lewis and Harris and adjacent islands in Scotland (the name of the cloth type tweed is coincidental with the name of the river Tweed) 13. Holland (or Holland cloth): a type of linen originally made in various parts of Europe, including the province of Holland in the Netherlands 14. jaconet: a fabric originally from Puri, India (the word is derived from the name of the city’s Jagannath Temple) 15. jean: a type of fabric originating in Genoa, Italy 16. jersey: a type of knit fabric originating on the island of Jersey, next to France (but a dependency of the United Kingdom) 17. Mackinaw cloth: a woolen cloth used for thick, warm jackets (called Mackinaws or Macs) originally favored by lumberjacks and then hunters and fishermen in the Mackinac (or Mackinaw) region of Michigan 18. madras: a lightweight cloth originally from Madras, India (now called Chennai) 19. muslin: a lightweight fabric originally from Mosul, Iraq 20. Morocco leather: a type of leather originally from Moroccan goats 21. nankeen: a type of fabric originating in Nanjing, China (previously called Nanking or Nankin); also refers to pants made of this material, as well as the pale buff or yellow color of the fabric, a type of porcelain originating in the city, and a type of lace (often called nankins) and part of the name of numerous animals and plants featuring this color 22. osnaburg: a coarse cloth originally made in Osnabrück, Germany 23. suede: a type of leather made from the underside of animal skins, originally referenced in the French phrase gants de Suède (“gloves from Sweden”); similar-looking fabrics are referred to as “sueded silk” and so on 24. tulle: a type of fabric originating in Tulle, France 25. worsted: a type of wool whose name is derived from that of Worstead, one of the villages from which it originated; also, the name of a type of yarn and a category of yarn weight