LANGTIVISM: WRITERS AND BURDEN OF REDUNDANCIES AND CIRCUMLOCUTIONS

By Rahaman Onike

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Every writer is often constrained by certain common faults in writing, and these include redundancy, circumlocution, wordiness, over-lapping, verbosity, among other stylistic infelicities that could render writing inelegant.  Given the linguistic implications of redundancy and circumlocution, efforts are being made here  to analyse the semantic, stylistic and syntactic impacts of redundancy and circumlocution on writing.  This becomes necessary when one considers the need for economy of words in writing; the fewer words one uses to convey ideas and meaning unmistakably, the fresher reader’s attention will be.

This doesn’t mean that one must fanatically squeeze every phrase into the smallest possible space or that one can’t repeat certain words for emphasis.

A redundancy is an expression that conveys the same meaning more than once.  Thus, ‘circle around’ is redundant because the idea of around is already contained in circle, ‘new innovation’ says nothing not already apparent in innovation; ‘shuttle back and forth’ is a redundancy for shuttle and a ‘personal friend’ is simply a friend accompanied by an irrelevant adjective, combine together should be pruned to read ‘combine’, ‘end result’ to be revised to read ‘result’.  The first draft of even great writers will almost certainly contain redundancies.  In revising your write-up, you may find ‘advance planning’ in one of your sentences, what is required of you is to ask yourself whether advance says not containing in planning.  If answer is ‘No’, the word advance should be removed.  ‘Share in common’ fails the same test and should be reduced to share; set of twins becomes twins; adequate enough becomes either adequate or enough and so on.  The revision makes for a cleaner, more purposeful effects.

Redundancies come in different varieties.  One common redundancy is the simple doubling of words that have the same meaning.  In the sentence: I have received a ‘free complimentary’ copy of The News Magazine. The writer may  delete either ‘free’ or ‘complimentary’ because they both mean the same.  A close relative is ‘free gift’.  Even worse is a ‘free complimentary gift’, a double redundancy.

For the purpose of emphasis, redundancy could be in words or phrasal forms. For example, green in color should simply be reduced to green because green has depicted color; ‘repeat again’ should simply be written as either repeat or again; ‘biography of his life’ be simply reduced to biography; ‘big in size’ should be shortened to ‘big’; ‘triangular in form’ be reduced to ‘triangular’; ‘preliminary plan’ should be shortened to ‘plan’, ‘few in number’ should be simply revised as ‘few’; ‘strict accuracy’ should equally be revised to read ‘accuracy’; ‘advance to the front’ fails the same test, it should be simply ‘advance’; basic essentials should be pruned to ‘essentials’.  The needless repetitions in the examples above are not only cases of redundancy, they may be treated as grammatical blemishes.

There are two kinds of redundancy – the desirable kinds which the linguists used for stylistic effects or repetition and the undesirable wordy type.  So, one must be able to differentiate the two forms and care needs to be taken in making use of redundancy or circumlocution for stylistic effects.

All redundancies fall into the broader category of circumlocutions, that is, roundabout expressions.  But some circumlocutions, instead of saying the same thing twice, or say next to nothing in the form of  ponderous phrase.  Expression like ‘in a manner of speaking’ and ‘to make a long story short’ are simply ways of sounding deliberate or perhaps making a short story long.

Some circumlocutions are so brief that they may be mistaken for concise phrases.  Instead of saying, “He was of a kindly nature” pare it to read ‘He was kind’ and your prose will be slightly more energetic.

Indeed, every good writer is often burdened by circumlocution, which is the use of several words instead of one exact word e.g destroyed by fire means burned, come in contact with usually means meet or know, the sort of metal they use for plating the shiny parts of automobiles might be simply written as chromium etc.

Many flappy sentences contain redundancies. In this senses, words that repeat the same idea or whose meaning overlap. For instance, ‘In this day and age’, people expect to live at least seventy years’.  In the given example, ‘day’ and ‘age’ present a similar idea.  To replace ‘in this day and age’ with ‘today’ as single word is less wordy and preferable.

Some grammarians refer to similar common faults as ‘overlapping’.  By this, I mean a particular form of what the grammarians call tautology, pleonasm or redundancy.  Possible varieties are infinite, but one of the commonest example is expression such as “the reason for this is because….” Instead of either “this is because” or simply write ‘because’ depending on the sentence structure.

Another common fault is the duplication of either the future or the past e.g. ‘The most probable thing will be that they will be sold in a government auction’.  The sentence can be revised for economy to read: The most probable thing is that they will be sold or one should simply say “The most probable thing is to auction it.”  The revised versions sound elegant and economical than the first expression.

Some covert redundancy are in the forms of adjectives and when they appear in sentences the best is to remove them. For example, ‘grave crisis’ to be recast as ‘crisis’,  ‘true facts’ be changed to ‘facts’, ‘real truth’ to be reduced to ‘truth, ‘basic necessity’ to be changed to ‘necessity’, ‘general consensus’ be reduced to ‘consensus’, ‘valuable assets’ to ‘assets’,‘added plus’ to be pruned to either  ‘added’ or ‘plus’ etc.

There are certain compound words or phrases in pairs connected by ‘and’ that contain redundancy e.g. The purpose of reading is to ‘comprehend and understand’ content.  Another relevant example: censorship is a very ‘pertinent and important’ subject to all Americans.  These two sentences may appear in  a writer’s  first draft, but we must ensure every compound of this nature, is scrutinized to pick the better of the two and throw the other away (Rawlling, 2000).

Despite the positive effects of repetition, its carries use may be considered a fault.  But when repetition is carefully used, it could make writing effective.  In essence, repetition cannot be outrightly avoided in writing.  Its use has also been justified as a good rhetorical device used for emphasis and the expression of emotion.  Of course, deliberate repetition as used in parallel structure can be effective.

Whereas careless repetition can rob your sentences of clarity and conciseness.  We should not also forget the convention in English style that words should be varied rather than repeated.

Just like redundancy, when repetition is abused or over-used, such repeated words or phrases that say the same thing must be revised. For example, ‘unanticipated surprise’, needs revision in order not to clog your sentences or  obscure your meaning, one may  delete ‘unanticipated’ and retain only the word ‘surprise’ for clarity.

One other strategy in making one’s writing to be elegant is to reduce any inflated phrase(s) in a prose to a word or two without loss of meaning e.g ‘in the final analysis’ to be recast as ‘finally’; ‘until such a time as’ to change simply to ‘until’.  Wordiness is another fault which every writer must identify and revise in the course of writing.   A sentence may sound wordy even it is relatively short.  And  a long sentence may be very concise.  It all depends on your purpose, the effect your desire for your reader.

A good rule of thumb for any writer is don’t waste words.  The idea is not simply to use as few words as possible, but to use many words as necessary to express what you mean (Menbering and Hare 2000).  The use of more words than are required for effective expression with the result that expression becomes less effective is also referred to as verbosity.

For example, “In the majority of instances’, John’s egocentric behavior was always the main cause of crisis in their family”.  The phrase ‘in the majority of instances’ should be revised to ‘most times’ which is more economical.  The sentence when it is revised will read ‘most times, John egocentric behavior was always the main cause of crisis in their family’.The revision is necessary to achieve clarity.  Of course, clarity relates to economy in writing, both have effects on the readers.  Often, sentences become unclear, illogical and rumbling because of the extra words in them.

Writers must look for deadwood too in writing.  Some deadwood consists of meaningless words which should be eliminated from your writing.  The same applies to hedging word, which are unnecessary qualifiers.  Although hedging words may seem safe to use because they are noncommittal.  By their nature, they can also lengthen and weaken sentences.  Examples of empty words are: by way of, while at the same time, in the manner that etc.  However, hedging words include somewhat, almost, sort of, in a way, rather, it seems that etc.  One should be careful in using those controversial words.

Occasionally, qualifying words such as ‘almost’ may be necessary for accuracy.  If you eliminate the redundant words from your sentences, your idea will stand out much more sharply.  But one should be sure that your sentences make sense after eliminating redundancy.  For example, sentence such as “Rain continued for two more days ‘to the extent that’ they caused major highways to be closed”.  The sentence having contained deadwood ‘to the extent that’ may have to be rephrased to simply read: Rains continued for two more days causing major highways to be closed.

The essence of this piece is to guide our understanding of how redundancy and circumlocution among other usage faults could affect the quality of our writing.  In short, the use of unnecessary words in conveying ones ideas results in flabby writing.  Therefore, writers need to take note that unprofitable words must be removed or replaced by more economical ones in revision.  For better awareness of redundancy, let’s look at this other sentence:  I was caught ‘unexpectedly’ off guard by the Registrar when he declared that I have ‘successfully’ satisfied the requirements for promotion to an higher position.  In this context, ‘unexpectedly’ and ‘successfully’ are redundant in the sentence and as such they meant to be pruned or eliminated.

 

REFERENCES

Crews F. (2000) The Random House Handbook: New York, Random House Publishers pp107-108

Day R. A (1995) Scientific English: A Guide for Scientists and other Professionals: India, University Press pp96-98

Gpwers E. (2015) Plain Word: A Guide to the Use of English: Great Britain, Penguin Books pp 110-111

Lamb G. F. (1999) English for General Certificate: London, pitman Press pp 246-247

McArthur T. and F. McArthur (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language: New York, Oxford University Press pp 853-854

Membering D and F.O. Have (2000) The Writer’s Work: Guide to Effective Communication: New York, Prentice Hall Inc. pp

Mifflin H. (2006) English Grammar and Composition: Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company 314-315

Rawlling J. (2000) The Writer’s Way: Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company pp 204-205

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