Articles: Blogs

Express Yourself: Over and over again

Miscellaneous - 30th September 2010

In any good newspaper or magazine, many stories are competing to appear in a limited amount of space. Unsurprisingly, therefore, editors love stories that can be expressed with clarity and concision. Editors hate wasted words.

Tautology – the act of saying the same thing twice or more but with different words – is high on the list of culprits, as are the dreaded pleonasms (using a descriptive word that is actually implicit in the word being described, such as a “round circle”).

Press releases filled with tautologies and pleonasms will soon find their way to the nearest bin, but we don’t need to worry about the technical terms right now. Here are a few examples of wasted words to illustrate the point:

  • Kenny Biggs Ltd is launching a brand new type of hat today. (It would be hard to launch an old hat and “brand new” simply means “new”.)
  • Our sales figures are descending downwards. (It’s impossible to descend upwards.)
  • We are forward planning. (Please don’t waste time planning for the past.)
  • My husband has just spent over £200 on tuna fish. (Are there any other types of tuna? Apart from piano tunas, obviously.)

In each of the above cases, a quick revision can shorten the statement without changing the meaning.

While we are on the subject of annoying and pointless phrases, nothing can physically be “almost unique” or “almost infinite” – unique and infinite are absolute qualities. It’s like saying someone is a “little bit dead” or “slightly pregnant”.

So if you want editors to print your press releases, leave the tautologies and pleonasms behind. I’ve told you once. I won’t tell you again.