Semantic pleonasm, or “Is that how you say things up North?”

Lesson: Recognizing redundancy in language

– “Your purchase comes with a free gift!”

– “Let’s join together in congratulations.”

– “Each and every person is special.”

The italicized words above are called “semantic pleonasms.” “Semantic pleonasm” is a fancy way of saying “redundancy in language,” or words and phrases we add to sentences that don’t bring increased meaning. My favorite example is the one above: free gift. If it’s a gift, wouldn’t it have to be free?

Here are some more examples:

– “He’s going down South.” South is located down, so you should just say, “He’s going South.”

– “Enter in the room.” If you are entering a room, you are going inside it. “Enter the room” is correct and concise.

– “Kneel down before me.” If someone could “kneel up,” then that would be some neat acrobatics.

Semantic pleonasms are so common in our everyday language that they can be difficult to catch without a keen eye (or ear). But erasing them when you write will make your writing more professional and easier to understand. The same goes for speeches and regular conversation.

I wouldn’t be a good grammar snob if I didn’t mention what I consider to be the most disgraceful semantic pleonasm: Where are you at? Here, “at” serves no purpose and can be dropped from the sentence without changing the meaning. Think about it this way: “where” is a simpler way to say “at what place.” Essentially, “Where are you at?” is saying, “At what place are you at?” And that just sounds silly.

Another common type of semantic pleonasm comes with initialisms. (Even I make mistakes with these.) This type happens when you say or write the initialism and include a word the initialism is abbreviating right after it. Perhaps it would be easier to understand if I show some examples.

– HIV virus: Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus

– PIN number: Personal Identification Number number

– ATM machine: Automated Teller Machine machine

– LCD display: Liquid Crystal Display display

Eradicating redundancies from your speech and writing just takes becoming aware of them. Try recognizing ones you use by reading over this list.

Thanks for reading this post. I’ll meet up (as opposed to meet down?) with you here soon for more adventures in language.

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