Monday 3 April 2023

Grammar: Redundancy

It can be hard to distinguish apart redundancy and tautology. Tautology (continue on, join together) says everything twice. Redundancy and otiosity over-egg the pudding. 

Icebergs are mainly submerged; haystacks are large compared to needles; tightrope walking is not easy. There's no need to say "the tip of a HUGE iceberg", "like looking for a needle in a VAST haystack", 

It’s like a needle in a thousand haystacks. (It can only be in one of them – but I suppose you'd have to eliminate the other 999. However, finding the proverbial needle is difficult enough.)

It’s a tiny needle in a very large haystack.

It’s the tip of an iceberg that goes very deep.
(All icebergs are 90% submerged.)

Gary Glitter is the tip of a huge iceberg. 

Early evidence suggests that Rafiq’s story is "the tip of a very large, very ugly iceberg”, says George Dobell in The Cricketer. (Nov 2021)

I suspect it is the tip of a much larger iceberg. 

It must have been an incredibly hard tightrope to walk for the writer. (How about “difficult balancing act”?

Autism’s big elephant in the room. (Not like those small elephants nobody notices...)

The big, stonking elephant in the room. (@DavidLammy)

Anne Widdicombe wants to send “a very loud warning shot across the bows” of the Conservative Party by standing as a Brexit Party MEP. (The point about a shot across the bows is that it nearly hits you – it is not meant to alarm you by making a loud noise.)

Handed him a rather large olive branch. (An olive branch is an olive branch, and it means “Let’s make peace”. It can’t mean any more than that. A tiny olive branch sends exactly the same message. Actually in the Bible it was a leaf.)

Before alcohol tightened its aggressive grip. (Times)

Archaeology is a complex jigsaw puzzle. (Alice Roberts)

An uninvited cuckoo in the nest. 

The results of the survey punched a rather large hole in the theory.

Putin has just shot himself a very unnecessary bullet in the foot. (Guardian)

Starmer is emerging as a plausible future prime minister in a desperately empty field. Like his possible rival, the chancellor Rishi Sunak... (Sept 2020. Either a field is empty, or it isn’t. Actually, if the field was empty, neither Starmer nor Sunak would be in it. The writer means something like "There is a desperate shortage of plausible candidates".)

If you add extra words to a well-known anecdote, its impact will be dulled, not enhanced.

The unspeakable in full pursuit of the unspeakable. (Ivana Lowell misquotes Oscar Wilde on fox-hunting.)

Help, my postilion has just been struck by lightning! (The original “useful phrase” was “My postilion has been struck by lightning”.)

The witty 70s graffiti read MY KARMA HAS RUN OVER MY DOGMA, not “Help! My karma has just run over my dogma!”. (It appeared on the side of the Conservative Club in Kentish Town in the 80s and I used to pass it every day.)

Actress Edith Evans had trouble with a line in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (“On a clear day you can see Marlow”). She kept putting in an extra “very”. Coward complained: “Edith – on a very clear day you can see Marlowe, and Beaumont, and Fletcher.” (You may need to know that Marlow is a town on the Thames, and Marlowe, Beaumont and Fletcher were 16th century playwrights.)

More redundancy here.

More writing tips here, and links to the rest.

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