Studying Yogi-isms, but instead of “all over again,” it’s for the first time, at least on this blog

Lesson: Reducing redundancy and contradiction

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was as well known for the RBIs he made while wearing a Yankee’s jersey as he was for his off-field RBIs, or “Real Berra Intelligence.” (Wow. I can actually hear your groaning. Personally, I’m just proud I know enough about baseball to make a joke like that.) My poor joking aside, Berra’s turns of phrase actually did become so iconic that they received their own linguistic category, “Yogi-isms.”

I’m sure you’ve heard of the most famous Yogi-isms:

– “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

– “I didn’t really say everything I said.”

– “It’s like déjà-vu all over again.”

While they are just plain fun to read, there is another reason to discuss Yogi-isms on Grammar Party, that’s because they are a good way to learn about two (at times hilarious) errors in sentence construction: pleonasm and contradiction.

Pleonastic Yogi-isms

Earlier this week, we discussed some pleonasms that are easy to spot once you get used to them. These are examples like: “free gift,” “up North,” and “invited guest.” However, pleonastic Yogi-isms are more difficult to catch. Instead of using two different words where one word would be sufficient, pleonastic Yogi-isms repeat the idea in two different ways. The last example listed above, “It’s like déjà-vu all over again,” is probably the best example of this type of Yogi-ism.

Here are some more examples:

– “Eighty percent of the balls that don’t reach the hole don’t go in.” (on golf)

“Don’t reach the hole” is the same as “don’t go in.”

–  “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

“Imitate” is the same as “copy.”

And here’s one that fits in with the type we studied in the last post:

– “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Can you spot the pleonasm? It’s “wrong mistake.” Is there a “mistake” that is “right”?   Maybe in a romantic comedy. I can see it now: Jennifer Aniston and Ashton Kutcher in Right Mistake. And it would probably be about a baby. And it probably wouldn’t be very funny.

Anyway . . . let’s move on to the other type of Yogi-ism

Contradictive Yogi-isms

In this type of Yogi-ism, Berra would start a sentence by expressing one idea, and then end it with the opposite idea.

Here are some examples:

– “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

– “It gets late early out there.”

– “I wish I had an answer to that because I’m tired of answering that question.”

Yogi-isms are awfully entertaining, but they are also good examples of mistakes to avoid when you are not trying to be witty. Eliminating pleonasms tighten up your writing and speaking. Also, be especially wary of making contradictions when you are building an argument, as they can nullify your point. And if you ever get called to a witness stand, I would not recommend saying, “I didn’t really say everything I said.”

If you would like to read more Yogi-isms, you can find a list here.

Fun fact: Yogi Berra isn’t the only person famous for his interesting style of oration. Computer Science professor David Farber, who was a major force in creating early computer programming languages, is also notorious for his nonsensical slips of the tongue. His quotes are now referred to as “Farberisms.”

Here are a few of his gems:

– “Don’t look a charlie horse in the mouth.”

– “That’s the way the cookie bounces.”

– “Don’t roll up your nostrils at me.”

– “Don’t rattle the cage that feeds you.”

– “It rolls off her back like a duck.”

Farber’s students have compiled a huge list of these sayings. You can read them here for a laugh.

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.