When it comes to language and metaphor, many people seem to think that if one word is good, two are better. This is untrue. In fact, as Thomas Jefferson said, "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." Here are a few common errors and absurdities that arise when people either misunderstand the words they are trying to use or simply gild the lily by adding unnecessary qualifiers.
Don't Qualify an Absolute: A Very Unique Proposition
You probably had a teacher who told you not to qualify an absolute, but he might not have explained it; it means that if something is absolute, it cannot be modified. Most is the most possible; least is the least possible, and unique means that there is only one in the category. Note the Latin root uni, meaning one. So it makes no sense to say that something is very unique or most unique. Either it is in a category of its own or it is not.
Here are a few phrases that, if you think about them, you will realize make no sense.
- Projected forecast All forecasts are projections. Just write forecast.
- Estimated guess All guesses are estimates and all estimates are guesses. Choose one word and stick to it.
- The whole entire thing Another major irritant. It's either the whole thing or the entire thing.
- Median average Choose: Do you mean median, which is the middle number in a series, or average, which is the number you get when you add numbers in a set and then divide them by the quantity of numbers in the set.
- Return back/Revert back Return means to go back. Back is unnecessary.
- Win out Ever see anyone win in?
- Natural talent All talents are natural. Imagine someone having an unnatural talent-- what would that mean?
- Delete out This is one of my personal pet peeves. Delete means to eliminate or wipe out. Just write delete.
- Reduce down Reduce implies down. No need to rub it in.
- Resume again Resume means to start again. No need for again.
- Future planning Ever try planning the past?
- General consensus By definition, a consensus is general. Just write consensus.
- Return back/Respond back Again, back is implied. Do not write it.
- ATM Machine Think a minute. What does ATM stand for? Hint: Why would you go a machine machine?
- Advance reservations "I'd like to make reservations for last week's flight." Sorry-- all reservations are made in advance.
These are just a few of the many meaningless modifications and redundancies that are tacked on to perfectly self-respecting words. Stop and think before you add a word to strong noun or verb. Is the word necessary? Is it logical? Does it add or detract from the clarity of your work? Often, less is more. Take Thomas Jefferson's advice: When one word conveys your meaning, use it alone.
© 2011 Elizabeth Danziger