Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wordiness

Economy is one hallmark of good writing, so writers must learn how to cut the clutter. In order to eliminate wordy phrases and expressions from your writing, first you should add the terms redundancy, circumlocution, and tautology to your vocabulary.

A redundant expression says the same thing twice, as in raise up (rise up), swallow down, and follow behind. Other common redundancies:

(actual) facts
(advance) warning
(all-time) record
(armed) gunman
attach (together)
(basic) fundamentals
blend (together)
(brief) moment
cancel (out)
circle (around)
combine (together)
(completely) destroyed
drop (down)
enter (in)
few (in number)
green (in color)
grow (in size)
join (together)
kneel (down)
lift (up)
meet (together)
mix (together)
outside (of)
(past) experience
(past) history
penetrate (into)
(personal) friend
reason is (because)
retreat (back)
round (in shape)
(serious) danger
share (together)
shiny (in appearance)
surrounded (on all sides)
(total) destruction
(true) facts
(ultimate) goal
(unexpected) surprise
(very) pregnant
(very) unique
warn (in advance)
write (down)


A circumlocution includes a string of words that go all around the block to express one simple idea. Examples: in the event that instead of if; at the present time instead of now; and on a regular basis instead of regularly. I have seen this last circumlocution so often in all kinds of writing that I have become allergic to it. Such expressions are not ungrammatical or repetitious, but they should be avoided because they’re wordy. More examples: a large proportion of (many); am in possession of (have); caused injuries to (injured); destroyed by fire (burned); draw the attention of/to  (show, point out); during the time that (while); give rise to (cause); had occasion to be (was); in this day and age (today).

A tautology is “repetition of the same words or use of synonymous words in close succession.” Examples:

A major nuclear disaster could have been sparked by . . .

. . . who died of a fatal dose of heroin

pair of twins

weather conditions

Another example is Yogi Berra’s famous “It was déjà vu all over again.”

Other tautologies are of this type: each and every, one and the same, any and all, when and if, and separate and distinct.

It’s easy to use superfluous words inadvertently and tough to detect them in your own prose. That’s why a good copy editor can be of great help to writers.

Paul Thayer

Your book editor