Superfluous Redundancies That Writers Can Eradicate Completely
A brief summary of stock expressions and timeworn clichés that are past overdue for entire elimination — well, for some but not all
First and foremost, I’m fascinated by common expressions that contain superfluous words. No, I don’t mean things like “She felt that her heart was breaking” where “that” isn’t needed. After all, it wouldn’t be wrong to keep “that” in the sentence (and it isn’t superfluous either, as it doesn’t convey a redundancy). I’m referring to extra words that aren’t needed (but aren’t necessarily wrong). Consider the following:
- “It’s snowing outside.” Where else would it be snowing?
- “I thought to myself” No one else can think for you.
- “He had a smile on her face.” Where else would a smile be?
Ben Yagoda, in a response to my inquiry on this matter, has coined a great expression: “Benign emphatic redundancy.” Two that he cited are “stand up” and “Raid Kills Bugs Dead.” That first one is great. After all, how else is a person going to stand? “Stand sideways, please.” Good luck with that. As for the Raid example, I’ve no doubt that the marketing execs at S. C. Johnson & Son knew the expression had a redundancy but went with it anyway as a way to have fun and, well, to be emphatic about how effective the product is. Advertisers do tend to like that sort of thing (Mickey Dolenz in a 1970 Monkees commercial for Kool-Aid: “Hey, let’s make some new sugar-sweetened Kool-Aid with the sugar already in it!”).
There are many phrases with superfluous words that we take for granted. “Exact replica” is one. If the thing that was allegedly replicated doesn’t look like the original, then it’s not a replica! And how about “necessary essentials”? If there’s such a thing as an unnecessary essential, I’m not aware of it. Let’s look at some others. I’ve got more than a few here we can consider.
- “Added bonus.” This one reminds me of “free gift.” However, I can see a context where “added bonus” might be okay when “added” is meant to convey “extra”: “We had decided on a bonus because of your excellent work this year. However, because your work far exceeded our expectations, we’re giving…