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Richard Nordquist

Excising Abstract Appendages: Cut the Clutter

By June 4, 2010

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We call them redundancies: unnecessary words that weigh down our writing. In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the classic British style guide published in 1926, Henry W. Fowler had a more colorful name for them--"abstract appendages":

Writers who are careless of form and desirous of emphasis often fail to notice that they are wasting words by expressing twice over in a sentence some part of it that is indeed essential but needs only to be expressed once. It is true that words are cheap, and, if the cost of them as such to the writer were the end of the matter, it would not be worth considering. The intelligent reader, however, is wont to reason, perhaps unjustly, that if his author writes loosely he probably thinks loosely also, and is therefore not worth attention.
Whatever we call them, expressions such as basic fundamentals, new innovations, past history, and future plans are wasteful. So our advice is to cut the needless modifiers.

For each of the following expressions (drawn from the 200 listed in Common Redundancies), we can (completely) eliminate the needless repetition by omitting the word or phrase in parentheses.

  • A.M. (in the morning)
  • (careful) scrutiny
  • (fatal) murder
  • (fellow) colleague
  • filled (to capacity)
  • (front) headlight
  • (necessary) requirement
  • postpone (until later)
  • reason is (because)
  • (sudden) impulse

Care to add an abstract appendage or two? Simply click on "comments" below.

Ways to Cut the Clutter:


June 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm
(1) Irfan says:

The last time this particular topic surfaced, I tried to get some feedback on one which is even listed in Cambridge Dictionary as such, i.e. to abseil down.

If abseil already means to go down, then what’s the point of adding down while using the actual word. Any thoughts? Any body?

June 8, 2010 at 6:40 am
(2) Damian says:

I’d like to nominate: (added) bonus. A good example of a catchy bit of advertising-speak (I’d guess) that’s entered common language use.

Not that I wouldn’t like to receive a some kind bonus bonus one day, or any number of further added bonuses. In this case, though, a bonus is already something already added.

June 10, 2010 at 9:57 am
(3) Art Cilley says:

I find “subtract (out)” redundant and offensive, although I must admit that “add (in)” seems less bad. Why is that?

June 11, 2010 at 1:36 pm
(4) Scaldis Mater says:

(free) pass

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