The Annals of Redundancy Annals: 400+ Phrases To Think Twice About

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 400 examples of redundant phrases I’ve seen, heard, or used myself. Many come from these sources:

I offer this list to prod, not to prohibit. As my thoughtful Twitter pal Alex Fornuto points out, “There’s always room for argument with these things.” Take live show. Alex notes that this phrase is redundant if, in context, the show—maybe an upcoming concert—could be nothing but live. The phrase is not redundant if, in context, the show—say, a TV program—could be recorded. (Alex, I have a koan for you: is a rerun of “Saturday Night Live” a live show?)

So I’m not saying, Never use any item on this list. I’m saying, Use your head. Write consciously. When you find yourself using these phrases or any of the infinite number of similar phrases that spring to the English-speaker’s mind, including most phrases that include adverbs, stare down the automatic duplication. Think twice so that your listeners and readers don’t have to. That’s my ultimate goal—I mean, my goal.

Think of this list as a poem. An epic poem. One worth reading aloud to your friends as they sit around a campfire making s’mores. Within each section, the loose alphabetical order imposes some kind of structure where no other organization scheme makes sense, not to mention creating a clickety-clack of alliteration to pass marshmallows to.

Adjectives

  • absolutely certain; absolutely essential; absolutely guaranteed; completely necessary; totally sure
  • 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
  • booked solid
  • entirely dedicated
  • exact same; same exact; same identical
  • filled to capacity
  • incredible to believe; visible to the eye; warm to the touch
  • long-term vs. short-term
  • morally wrong
  • singularly focused
  • sufficient enough
  • whole entire

Adverbs

  • at least quarterly if not more often
  • globally around the world

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 essentials; basic fundamentals; basic necessities
  • big kahuna
  • brief moment
  • boat marina
  • bouquet of flowers
  • brief respite; brief summary
  • broad range; wide range
  • burning embers
  • cacophony of sound
  • cameo appearance
  • careful attention; careful scrutiny
  • cash money
  • classification scheme comprising categories—better yet, hierarchical classification scheme comprising categories and subcategories
  • clear lines of communication
  • close proximity; close scrutiny
  • closed fist
  • coherent strategy
  • color palette
  • component parts
  • 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
  • equal halves
  • ethical obligation
  • eventual plan
  • exception to the rule
  • 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; recommendations for the future
  • general consensus; general public
  • good cheer; good rapport; good sportsmanship
  • great good fortune
  • green grass; blue sky; white snow
  • guiding principles
  • hand gestures
  • handy tips
  • harmful injuries
  • head honcho
  • helpful hints
  • high-level roadmap
  • hollow tube
  • huge chasm
  • hushed silence
  • hybrid of the two
  • illustrated drawing
  • inevitable wave of the future
  • inferior underling
  • innovative new idea
  • invited guests
  • joint collaboration
  • key stakeholders
  • knowledgeable expert
  • leading authority
  • little baby
  • live studio audience; live witness
  • local residents
  • loud roar
  • main focus; primary focus; central focus
  • major breakthrough
  • mass exodus
  • meaningful relationship
  • mental telepathy
  • meticulous attention to detail
  • mind-meld of both our heads
  • minestrone soup; pizza pie; tuna fish
  • minor quibble
  • 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
  • none at all
  • nostalgia for the past
  • number-one leader
  • official regulations
  • old adage; old classic; old cliché; old custom; old proverb; old legacy
  • open trench
  • oral conversation
  • overall big picture
  • pair of twins
  • paramount importance
  • passing fad
  • past history; past memory; past record
  • personal friend; personal favorite; for me personally; I personally
  • pivotal turning point
  • polar opposites
  • poisonous venom
  • positive identification
  • prearranged appointment; predefined terms; preestablished rules; preplanned activity; prerecorded music
  • previous experience
  • private industry
  • proactive support
  • proposed plan
  • proven track record
  • quarterback sack
  • quick two-minute survey
  • record of errors recorded
  • regular routine
  • required requirements
  • root cause
  • running motif
  • safe haven; safe sanctuary; safe sandbox (in technology)
  • sand dune
  • sequence in time
  • several different kinds
  • serious crisis; serious danger
  • sharp point
  • short hop
  • single unit
  • small compact woman
  • small handful
  • sneak peek
  • solid foundation
  • specific area of knowledge; specific details; specified specifications
  • stated mission
  • state of confusion
  • strong reputation; reputation in the community
  • stuffed cabbage rolls
  • sudden explosion; sudden impulse
  • suggestions that come to mind
  • sum total
  • synonyms that convey the same meaning
  • target objectives
  • telltale sign
  • temper tantrum
  • temporary reprieve
  • therapeutic treatment
  • thought in one’s head; idea in one’s head
  • three separate buildings
  • three-way love triangle
  • timpani drums
  • tired cliché; old cliché
  • top three most important criteria
  • top trumps (British)
  • trained technician
  • traveling gypsies
  • true fact; hard fact; cold fact
  • two-way conversation
  • two halves
  • ultimate goal
  • unacceptable racial slurs
  • undergraduate student
  • underground subway
  • unexpected surprise
  • unintentional mistake
  • universal panacea
  • unfilled vacancy
  • unfriendly smirk
  • usual custom
  • vast sweep
  • venerable old edifices
  • vernacular of ordinary people
  • visual diagram; visual image
  • vocabulary of terms
  • wall mural
  • weather conditions
  • win-win situation for both sides

Verbs

  • actively participate
  • add an additional; add more
  • aid and abet; cease and desist; pick and choose
  • allow you to be able to
  • always include
  • 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
  • bring a smile to your face
  • change 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
  • could possibly; can’t possibly
  • count the number of
  • cream thoroughly
  • decimated [____] percent 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
  • effectively help
  • Enter, [____], to the rescue.
  • enter in; penetrate into; input into; output out of
  • estimate at roughly
  • extradite back; refer back; reflect back; regress back; reply back; retreat back; return back; revert back
  • 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
  • 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; moving forward we will…
  • learn over time; learn something you didn’t know
  • look ahead to the future; look back to the past
  • looming in the near future
  • maintain constantly
  • make perfect sense
  • originally created
  • overexaggerate
  • pause for a moment
  • perceive a noticeable impact
  • plan ahead; proceed ahead
  • postpone until later
  • preboard; predefine; preestablish; preheat; prerecord; pretest
  • prioritize in order of importance
  • protest against
  • reelect for another term
  • recur again; repeat again; rethink again
  • 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 [___], 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
  • also too; in addition you can also
  • and etc.
  • any and all
  • ATM machine; GOP party; GRE exam; HIV virus; ISBN number; LCD display; PIN number; RAM memory; UPC code—and my favorite: Please RSVP
  • 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
  • first and foremost
  • for some unknown reason
  • from whence
  • having said that; that being said
  • I for one
  • in my opinion
  • modern citizens of today
  • many theories abound
  • number #5
  • of which you are one of
  • 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
  • test score on the exam
  • throughout the entire
  • whether or not

Conclusion

Did you read the whole list? I know, I could have stopped after a few representative examples—I mean, after a few examples. If I had, 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 October 16, 2013, in my TechWhirl column, “Word Wise.”

8 thoughts on “The Annals of Redundancy Annals: 400+ 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.

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