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A plethora of pleonasms

If you lack the stomach for the previous post on the flaws of Wikipedia, you can go on a pleonasm hunt instead.

A previous post on pleonasms — from the Greek pleion, “more,” meaning redundant, using more words than necessary — may have sensitized you to safe haven, mass exodus and the like, but there is always more.

Last week a story drifted across the copy desk referring to the discovery in a prison of homemade shanks. A shank is a crude dagger improvised from a spoon, a piece of scrap metal or some other object. It is by definition homemade; Williams Sonoma doesn’t sell shanks. (Shank is also a verb, meaning to stab someone with such a weapon.) If a prisoner used a knife on another prisoner or a guard, we’d call it a knife.

So the hunt is on. What do you find that can be added to our swelling list of obnoxious pleonasms?* You Don’t Say is open to receive them.


* Please, skip the jocular submissions — jumbo shrimp, military justice. We’ve heard them all.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:03 AM | | Comments (37)


I recently heard a radio reporter say something about an official who "repeated again" that the administration's efforts to subdue the recession were just beginning. Although I suppose if you have had to say something repeatedly, then you may be repeating yourself more than once.

James Kilpatrick once listed "nape of the neck" as a redundancy; later, he recanted, persuaded by a reader who pointed out that "nape" is an unusual word, and that "redundancy" in this case might help clarity. I suspect that's the motivation behind "fatally electrocuted" as well; "electrocute" is drifting a bit from its "killed by electricity" sense, and not everyone is sure electrocution means death.

Could I enter a mild objection to this sport, while I'm here? I think these phrases often exist for good reasons, and that we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves when we build in a bit of redundancy -- as good engineers do. When I wrote about a book of redundancies, lots of my readers had no idea what was wrong with "12 noon." (Well, nothing is. But it is, technically, pleonastic.)

"Revert back" has become pretty common lately.

A colloquial pleonasm that has always grated on me, pendantic snob that I am, since I first heard it in the Army: "Where's it at?"

More pedantry: "Jumbo shrimp" and "military justice" are oxymorons, not pleonasms.

JEM: Yes, what could I have been thinking when I called those oxymorons pleonasms?

Some pleonasms are useful. We have one weather forecaster here who repeatedly predicts the weather will be cold and snowy.

That's helpful. I know to wear long pants when I go outside to shovel the walks.

My high school English teacher's favorite pleonasm was "country music."

One I see way too often is "completely destroyed." No reporter I've worked with has been able to justify this phrase ... as if something can be partially destroyed.

personal opinion

Intelligent Design. The notion of some sort of intelligence is embedded in the definition of the word design.

I've always thought "hot water heater" was redundant. Why the "hot"?

"12 noon" isn't redundant unless you use a 24-hour clock.

The legal realm is rife with pleonastic construct, such as null and void, cease and desist, etc.

One of the greatest pains is having a TV presenter use the term "irony" when what they are describing is merely coincidence. So we chuckled mordantly when, during the leadup to the election, CNN's Gloria Borger described an actual example as "a sort of double irony."

Here in New Orleans, we have a weatherman who drives me to distraction with "the morning hours" and "the evening hours." Tonight he came up with "the evening-hour time frame." Made me want to dig my eyeballs and eardrums out with a soup spoon.

@Bill W.: "Noon" is always 12.

@Ray W.: Why is this eyeball-gouging imagery suddenly so popular? I keep stumbling upon it in otherwise civilized gatherings, and it's way more upsetting than any usage error could be.


I'm quite sure this is not a pleonasm, but as long as RobS has brought up Great Pains, our local newswomen (always women) announce that meeting and Events have been cancelled until a later date! There are times when I am convinced that I'm the last person who knows that this was postponed!

@Jan Freeman: Maybe it's just me, but I find that adding the number 12 to noon implies a degree of precision that the word noon by itself does not have (although the term "High Noon" does). Technically, noon does mean 12:00 o'clock but I think colloquially it means "about 12:00 o'clock".


I guess acronyms like "PIN number" and "ATM machine" don't count, huh.

@JanFreeman: But 12 isn't always noon.

obnoxious pleonasm

"Noon" is always 12

Yes, but 12 isn't always noon.

In journalism, "brutal murder" gets kicked around a lot as a redundancy. I think avoiding it is a good rule, but doesn't always need to be applied. I tend to see a bloody stabbing as a lot more "brutal" than, say, poisoning. They're both brutal acts, sure, but only one leaves a truly horrifying image.

I've got one, when a friend gave birth to twins and she was bragging about how she gave birth to a pair of twins


Also a wall mural (is there any other kind of mural)

Since it is winter there in the Northern Hemisphere this pleonasm is one will get tossed around alot

Frozen ice.

Hmm I could do this all day :-)

Isaac - she who has recently given birth is always to be cut a lot of slack by all who have not.

A pair of twins would seem to suggest four babies.

"Pair of twins" seems to be getting into the realm of group naming, such as "a murder of crows" and "a congress of fools."

Tuna fish. What else in the English language is called tuna that is not a fish? Perhaps I will start ordering chicken bird sandwiches.

@Isaac: "Also a wall mural (is there any other kind of mural)"

A recent obituary I was reading told of the story's elderly subject climbing a ladder to paint a mural on a ceiling. I too thought that murals could be painted only on walls but found that Webster's Fourth defines a mural as "a picture, esp. a large one, painted directly on a wall or ceiling."

Parden the crude language, but "_ssless chaps". Chaps that are not _ssless, are simply pants.

Re "12 isn't always noon": Hey, I didn't say it was, and in any case, I like "12 noon." But the pleonasm police would say noon is always 12, so noon should suffice. ("12 noon" is from a book of redundancies by Richard Kallan; it's remarkably hard to spot as redundant, I've found.)

At any rate, I wanted to add this one, from Ambrose Bierce, to my "nape" and "electrocute" counterexamples above. Bierce (1909) says "would-be assassin" is redundant, because "he who attempts to murder is an assassin, whether he succeeds or not." I don't think many writers would use it that way today.

When I consider the conversation in which chaps - _ssless or otherwise - would be the subject, I wander into giggle territory.

My DW is enamored of saying things such as "When I was talking to my mother I told her (pause) I said ..."

How about "local community?"

I think local community is meant to be a level in a hierarchy, corresponding to a town or perhaps a neighborhood of a large city (Soho?). Local as opposed to state-wide or regional.

I think beating up on pleonasms is kind of borderline. Redundancy for emphasis or clarity is just part of the flavor of expression, for better or worse.

Local TV reporters love to describe cars as "red in color" or "black in color." Is this opposed to "red in size"?

@Bucky Funny you say "long pants", since that itself is a pleonasm. Pants are already long, if they weren't, they'd be shorts, capris, or something else. Thanks for reading my mind, sort of.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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