The Annals of Redundancy Annals: 600 Phrases To Think Twice About

You Can Say That Again

Ever dig into a book with relish?

Scratch that. Dig into says “with relish.”

Ever dig into a book? The other night, my husband did just that. He had heard good things about it. He couldn’t wait to read it. He adjusted the lights for reading, settled into his recliner, cranked up his feet, and gave the author what every author dreams of: undivided attention. A few pages in, he pitched the book into the recycle bin. Why? Because it was filled with distractingly redundant writing like this:

And yet, the man thought to himself contradictorily…

Double duh! First, the man is thinking to himself. To whom else would he think? We don’t need himself. Second, the man is thinking contradictorily. How else would and yet cross his mind? We don’t need contradictorily. If the author had stopped at “And yet, the man thought,” my husband might have finished the book. And if the author had stopped at “And yet”—giving readers the satisfaction of figuring out that the man is thinking those words—my husband might, by now, be urging this book on his friends.

Eight words. Two words. Eight words. Two words. I could add “hands weighing,” but you don’t need that visual-verbal redundancy: you already picture the hands.

Here’s an example of visual-verbal redundancy that comes straight from my mailbox:

envelope | how to write

“See inside for details.” Somebody paid to have this line printed. On an envelope. Envelopes, in their very envelopeness, say, I envelop something. Guess where you can find it! Hint: It’s not here on the outside.

I’ve even run into aural-verbal redundancy. I used to work with a woman named Tina whose mother began every phone call this way: “HA-llo. DEE-na. DEES eez your MAH-ther.” Thanks for telling me, Ma. It could have been an impersonator.

Redundancy. Unhelpful duplication. Bryan A. Garner describes it as “the result of semiconscious writing” (Garner’s Modern American Usage 3rd ed., p. 701). Redundancy creeps into everyone’s writing. At best, it adds bloat. At worst, it insults readers’ intelligence.

We don’t intend to insult readers, so why do we do it? Because we’re thinking about our meaning, not our words. In the great stew of language, words with similar meanings stick together. When we dip into the pot, we often scoop out more than we need.

Below is a list of over 600 examples of redundant phrases—lucious rhetorically tautological dainties (scratch lucious)—that I’ve seen, heard, or used myself. Some come from these sources:

In addition, every day I gather redundant phrases from TV, radio, the web, books, labels, billboards, conversations—including my part in those conversations. If you’re going to collect something, why not something that costs nothing, requires no space, hurts no one, makes people smile, and offers itself in abundance? This hobby is as easy as picking up bits of gravel from a gravel road, each bit taking on value only because someone bothered to notice and cherish it.

Of course, redundancy depends on the context. As technical writer Alex Fornuto says, “There’s always room for argument with these things.” Take live show. Alex notes that if you’re talking to friends about an upcoming performance, all you have to say is the show—your friends know that it’s live. On the other hand, if you’re inviting people over to watch a TV show, say Saturday Night Live, and you want them to know that it’s not a rerun, you might want to say the live show or even the live Live show. Okay, I’m messing with you. You’d never say the live Live show to your friends, no matter how much you might enjoy saying it to yourself.

Here’s another example: whether or not. The or not is “usually superfluous” since “whether implies or not,” as Bryan Garner notes, but sometimes you need the whole phrase. [6] Take these two sentences:

 My friend can’t decide whether to change jobs. [No need for or not.]

You get it. Redundancy depends.

So don’t take this list as gospel. To get the most out of it, read it in the spirit of fun in which it was conceived. If the silliness of phrases like armed gunman and boat marina tickles you, you have much to look forward to here. For me, redundancies like these rival Tom Swifties for entertainment value. (Tom Swifites, in case you missed out on them, are intentionally goofy double-whammy statements like “We just struck oil!” Tom gushed.)

Lucky for me—and for you if you also revel in the guilty pleasure (is that redundant?) that results from encounters with foibled language—redundancies are everywhere.

If this list’s organizational scheme—alphabetical order within parts-of-speech groupings dotted with blatantly unalphabetical thematic or aurally pleasing subgroupings—strikes you as inconsistent, you’re right. When you notice apparent arbitrarinesses or missed opportunities in the arrangement of this list, look for an underlying reason. I mean, look for a reason. I’m not saying that I always had a reason, but hey, why not make a game of it? May your search for meaning, here as in your life, be its own reward.

Think of this list as a panoplous poem, an epic paean to pleonasm (not to be confused with neoplasm). Take turns reading it aloud with friends as you sit around a campfire making s’mores, your voices clickety-clacking across the alliterations as you pass the sticky marshmallows. The marshmallows.

Adjectives

  • absolutely certain; absolutely essential; absolutely guaranteed; completely necessary; totally sure
  • actively involved
  • arranged vertically not side by side
  • bald-headed
  • best ever; first ever
  • blue in color; few in number; long in duration; nubbly in texture; round in shape; slovenly in appearance; short in height; slow in speed; small in size; tall in stature
  • boiling hot; freezing cold
  • booked solid
  • crystal clear
  • entirely dedicated
  • exact same; same exact; same identical
  • filled to capacity
  • incredible to believe; visible to the eye; warm to the touch
  • long-term rather than short-term; proactive rather than reactive; just one instead of two
  • morally wrong
  • most optimal
  • mutually beneficial for all involved
  • rock solid
  • singularly focused
  • sufficient enough
  • too extreme
  • up-and-coming young
  • whole entire

Nouns

  • actual experience; actual fact
  • added bonus
  • advance notice; advance planning; advance preview; advance reservations; advance warning
  • agreed-on standards
  • all-time favorite; all-time record
  • alternative choice
  • anonymous stranger
  • annual anniversary
  • armed gunman
  • artificial prosthesis
  • autobiography of her own life; biography of his life
  • balsa wood
  • basic basics; basic essentials; basic fundamentals; basic necessities
  • big kahuna
  • black darkness
  • blowing wind
  • brief moment
  • boat marina
  • bouquet of flowers
  • brief respite; brief summary
  • broad overview; broad range; broad spectrum
  • burning fire
  • cacophony of sound
  • cameo appearance
  • careful scrutiny
  • cash money
  • challah bread; minestrone soup; pizza pie; tuna fish
  • clear lines of communication
  • close proximity; close scrutiny
  • closed fist
  • coherent strategy
  • color palette
  • component parts
  • concrete example
  • conscious choice
  • consensus of opinion
  • core essence
  • crisis situation; emergency situation
  • current incumbent; current trend; current-state baseline
  • definite decision
  • desirable benefits
  • direct confrontation
  • diverse characteristics
  • early pioneer
  • end result
  • English language
  • equal halves
  • ethical obligation
  • eventual plan; proposed plan; forward planning
  • exception to the rule
  • experiential travel experiences
  • face mask
  • false pretense
  • fast speed
  • favorable approval
  • fellow classmate; fellow colleague
  • final conclusion; final ending; final outcome; final ultimatum
  • foreign imports
  • former graduate; former veteran; seasoned veteran
  • foundational starting point
  • free gift
  • friend of mine
  • frozen ice; frozen tundra
  • full satisfaction
  • future forecast; future plans; future goals; future recurrence; expectation for the future; inevitable wave of the future; recommendations for the future; vision of the future
  • general consensus; general public
  • giant thrill
  • glowing embers
  • golden opportunity
  • good cheer; good rapport; good sportsmanship
  • great good fortune
  • green grass; blue sky; white snow
  • guiding principles
  • gut feeling; visceral feeling
  • hand gestures
  • handy hacks; handy tips
  • harmful injuries
  • head honcho
  • helpful hints
  • hierarchical classification scheme comprising categories and subcategories
  • high-level roadmap
  • hollow tube
  • huge chasm
  • hushed silence
  • hunting camouflage
  • hybrid of the two
  • idea in one’s head; thought in one’s head; mind-meld of both our heads; doubt in my mind; suggestions that come to mind
  • illustrated drawing
  • implicit implication
  • inferior underling
  • innovative new idea
  • intentional effort
  • invited guests
  • joint collaboration
  • key stakeholders
  • knowledgeable expert
  • leading authority
  • little baby; little cat nap
  • live studio audience; live witness
  • local residents
  • loud roar
  • lucky winner
  • main focus; primary focus; central focus
  • major breakthrough
  • mass exodus; mass consumer market
  • meaningful relationship
  • mental telepathy
  • meticulous attention to detail
  • minor quibble
  • modern citizens of today
  • mutual advantage of both; mutual cooperation; mutual interdependence; mutual respect for each other
  • nape of the neck; palm of the hand; sole of the foot
  • native habitat
  • natural instinct; natural tendency
  • new beginning; new change; new construction; new innovation; new invention; new news; new recruit; new wave
  • none at all
  • nostalgia for the past
  • number-one leader
  • official regulations
  • old adage; old classic; old custom; old proverb; old legacy; old cliché; tired cliché
  • open trench
  • oral conversation
  • overall big picture
  • pair of twins
  • paramount importance
  • passing fad
  • past experience; past history; past memory; past record
  • personal friend; personal favorite; for me personally; I personally
  • pivotal turning point
  • polar opposites; exact opposite
  • poisonous venom
  • positive identification
  • prearranged appointment; predefined terms; preestablished rules; preplanned activity; prerecorded music
  • previous experience
  • private industry
  • proactive support
  • proven process; proven track record
  • quarterback sack
  • quick two-minute survey; quick briefing
  • rapt attention
  • record of errors recorded
  • regular routine
  • relative priority
  • representative example
  • required requirements
  • root cause
  • running motif
  • safe haven; safe sanctuary; safe sandbox [in technology]
  • sand dune
  • sequence in time
  • several different kinds; two different bridges, 500 million different people; six separate buildings
  • serious crisis; serious danger
  • sharp point
  • short hop; short summary; short recap
  • single unit
  • small handful
  • sneak peek
  • solid evidence; solid foundation
  • specific areas; specific details; specific products
  • specified specifications
  • stated mission
  • state of confusion
  • sticky marshmallows
  • strict limit
  • strong reputation; reputation in the community
  • stuffed cabbage rolls
  • such a shame
  • sudden explosion; sudden impulse
  • sum total
  • synonyms that convey the same meaning
  • tangential rabbit hole
  • tangible work experience
  • target objectives
  • telltale sign
  • temper tantrum
  • temporary reprieve
  • test score on the exam
  • therapeutic treatment
  • three-way love triangle
  • timpani drums
  • top three most important criteria
  • top trumps (British)
  • trained technician
  • traveling gypsies
  • treasure trove; rich trove
  • true fact; hard fact; cold fact
  • two-way conversation
  • two halves
  • ultimate goal
  • unacceptable racial slurs
  • undergraduate student
  • underground subway
  • underlying reason
  • unexpected surprise
  • unintentional mistake
  • universal panacea
  • unfilled vacancy
  • unfriendly smirk
  • uphill climb
  • usual custom
  • vast sweep
  • venerable old edifices
  • vernacular of ordinary people
  • visual diagram; visual image
  • vocabulary of terms
  • wall mural
  • weather conditions
  • wide range
  • win-win situation for both sides

Verbs

  • actively participate
  • add an additional; add a new; add more
  • aid and abet; cease and desist; pick and choose
  • allow you to be able to
  • always include; always remember; never forget
  • anticipate what will happen in the future
  • are currently
  • ascend up; connect up; heat up; hoist up; hurry up; lift up; open up; partner up; raise up; rise up
  • ask the question
  • assemble together; attach together; blend together; collaborate together; combine together; confer together; connect together; cooperate together; fuse together; gather together; join together; integrate together; meet together; merge together; mingle together; mix together; pool together; share together; splice together
  • authenticate successfully
  • belabor too much; encroach too much
  • bridge between; span across
  • bring a smile to your face
  • change over time; improve over time; increase over time; learn over time; remain relevant over time
  • choose as one of his picks; consciously choose
  • circle around; circulate around
  • classify into groups
  • collaborate with others
  • communicate with each other; compete with each other; equal to each other; integrate with each other; interact with each other; interdependent on each other; meet with each other; separate apart from each other
  • commute back and forth; vacillate back and forth
  • completely annihilate; completely destroy; completely eliminate; completely engulf; completely eradicate; completely fill; completely surround; completely alike; completely finished; absolutely full; totally opposite; eliminate altogether
  • continue with the ongoing analysis
  • copy and paste from one place to another
  • could possibly; can’t possibly
  • count the number of
  • cream thoroughly
  • decimate a percentage of
  • depreciate in value
  • descend down; dwindle down; fall down; kneel down; write down; pouring down rain
  • deviate away from
  • did before; did earlier; had done previously
  • disappear from sight
  • earned their stripes on the way up
  • effectively help
  • Enter, Superman, to the rescue.
  • enter into; penetrate into; input into; output out of
  • entirely remove
  • estimate at roughly
  • extradite back; refer back; reflect back; regress back; reply back; retreat back; return back; revert back
  • experience firsthand
  • firmly believe
  • first began; first started; first conceived
  • fly through the air
  • follow after
  • frequented on a regular basis
  • gasp for breath
  • go back and reread
  • got up after going down
  • grow in size
  • implement tactically
  • indict on a charge
  • introduce a new; introduce for the first time
  • invent something new; create a new form
  • keep your eyes focused on
  • kills bugs dead
  • lag behind
  • lead forward; going forward; moving forward we will…
  • learn something you didn’t know
  • look ahead to the future; look back to the past; loom in the near future
  • maintain constantly
  • make perfect sense
  • meander all over the place
  • originally created
  • overexaggerate
  • pause for a moment
  • perceive a noticeable impact
  • physically occupy
  • plan ahead; proceed ahead
  • position for future growth
  • postpone until later
  • preboard; predefine; preestablish; preheat; prerecord; pretest
  • prepare ahead of time; prepare the future enterprise
  • prioritize in order of importance
  • proactively anticipate; proactively schedule; proactively solve problems before they occur
  • protest against
  • reelect for another term
  • recur again; repeat again; rethink again; review again
  • savor slowly
  • say explicitly
  • scrutinize in detail
  • self-analyze yourself; self-diagnose themselves
  • set clear expectations
  • share in common; share the same
  • skip over
  • slip quietly
  • spell out in detail
  • still continues; still persists; still remains
  • surround on all sides
  • take this, for example
  • think to oneself; in my head I’m thinking; picture this in your head
  • tinker around
  • translate into another language
  • warn in advance; plan in advance; preview in advance; reserve in advance; schedule in advance
  • will do later
  • win a victory
  • wince in pain
  • winnow down
  • work diligently

Odds and Ends

  • 6 a.m. in the morning; 10 p.m. in the evening; twelve noon; twelve midnight
  • all of the apples; off of the couch; outside of the circle
  • and etc.; also too; in addition you can also
  • any and all; each and every
  • ATM machine; BFF 4 evah; GOP party; GRE exam; HIV virus; ISBN number; JCR repository; LCD display; PIN number; please RSVP; RAM memory; RAS syndrome (redundant-acronym-syndrome syndrome—look it up); UPC code
  • at a time when; during the course of; earlier time; later time; evolve over time; point in time; period of time; time period; present time; since the time when; first of all; never before; now pending
  • at least quarterly if not more often
  • copyright © 2015
  • far other end of the scale
  • first and foremost
  • for some unknown reason
  • from the top down
  • from whence
  • globally around the world
  • having said that; that being said
  • I for one
  • in my opinion
  • in which we live in; of which you are one of
  • just simply
  • more not less
  • many theories abound
  • number #5
  • on April 1
  • outside in the yard
  • previously noted above
  • the reason why; the reason is because; the cause was due to
  • single greatest
  • soon in the near future; sooner rather than later
  • throughout the entire; across the entire
  • two (2)
  • whether or not

Conclusion

I know, I could have stopped after a few representative examples—I mean, after a few examples. If I had, though, think of the smiles you’d have missed. Besides, you’ve just sharpened your eye. The more you spot redundancies, the more you spot redundancies. And that’s no redundancy. But then, that goes without saying.

This post first appeared in my TechWhirl column, “Word Wise,” October 16, 2013.

[1] Mark Nichol, “50 Redundant Phrases to Avoid,” Daily Writing Tips blog, 2011, http://www.dailywritingtips.com/50-redundant-phrases-to-avoid.

[2] Richard Nordquist, “200 Common Redundancies,” About.com Grammar & Composition, http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/redundancies.htm.

[3] Mignon Fogarty, “Are You Annoyingly Redundant?” Grammar Girl blog, August 7, 2009, http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/are-you-annoyingly-redundant.

[4] Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 700-701.

[5] The idea of posting individual list items to social media comes from Listly.com founder Nick Kellet. The title for those postings—”Today’s redundancy of the day”—comes from my high-school classmate and fellow wordplay lover Anne Willis Reed.

[6] Garner, p. 857.

14 thoughts on “The Annals of Redundancy Annals: 600 Phrases To Think Twice About

  1. Thanks, Marcia. As I read through this — I mean, as I read this — I thought to myself — no, I just thought — “This is really awesome!” Um, I mean, awesome. Period.

    • Larry, Thanks for the smile. How could any other line of work could touch the rewards of writing? Well, other than money…

  2. I’ve got to admit-I read this whole entire post with a smile stretched across my face from one side to the other of my grinning face.

    But really, in all seriousness, for real

    I did.

    • David, Your note brings me a smile. I keep returning to this post myself, adding to it regularly as I encounter redundant phrases. I sense a kindred spirit in you. In fact, I just read your blog post “On Editing – Death to Weak Verbs” and commented there. I don’t know if the comment took (it disappeared when I clicked the button), but I trust that it will find its way.

  3. Is big kahuna really a redundant phrase? According to Wikipedia, “Kahuna is a Hawaiian word, defined in Pukui & Elbert (1986) as a “priest, sorcerer, magician, wizard, minister, expert in any profession”.

    Can’t you have multiple kahunas (kahunae?) and a “big” kahuna running the show?

    • Alex, Your question serves as a reminder to consider the context in any writing decision. Most contexts I can imagine for the term “kahuna” would not require the “big.” Even if you had a roomful of kahunae and you wanted the big one to stand up, it seems likely, given the common use of the term, that they would all understand you if you said, “Who’s the kahuna here?” If everybody stood up, then I’d give in and add “big.”

      In honor of your thought-provoking question, I hereby declare that every so-called redundant phrase on my list may, at times, have a defensible use. I just ask that writers put their phrases to the Kahuna Test.

      • Thank you for this. I love the list. And I really appreciated the clarification. I thought of a few examples where one of the listed phrases would be preferable than a shortened version. You’re “declaration” is most appreciated!

  4. I was absolutely astounded by your list of repetitive redundancies and read it all the way to the very end, smiling happily as I completely soaked up every last word, or to put it another way, I liked your list and read it all.

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