pleonasms

A pleonasm is a word or phrase with semantically redundant parts. So, for example, at this moment in time is a pleonasm because there are no moments outside time, so we don't really need to say in time. But people do.

Pleonastic expressions are things that language haters like to hate on. (These people often claim to be language lovers, but they don't seem to be very good at the love part.) So, they're the kind of thing that people complain to me about, with the Americans saying "Why do the British say X? It's repetitive and illogical", and the British saying "Why do Americans say Y? It's repetitive and illogical."

At their worst, these complaints come out as "Why do Americans/Brits always add extra words?"

When I get those complaints, I reply with some phrases from the speaker/writer's own dialect that have 'illogically redundant' words (it's not hard to do) and I say something like "language is not logical and it thrives on redundancy".

I mean, why say Yesterday we baked a cake? Yesterday is in the past, so why bother with the past tense marking on the verb? So redundant. Chinese wouldn't put up with that.

Thinking about these accusations that Brits/American always add extra words, I put a call out on Twitter and Facebook for BrE/AmE-specific pleonasms that others have noticed. We can see from the resulting lists below that there are no innocent parties in the Pleonasm Wars. Many of expressions aren't only said in the 'offending' dialect, but they are more common in one than the other. To indicate the relative "Americanness" or "Britishness" of a phrase, I've given a ratio, which indicates the proportion of instances of the phrase in the British and American portions of the Corpus of Global Web-Based English. (The minority uses in the other dialect may be things like "Can you believe the British call beets beetroot?". That is, the fact that there are some in the other dialect doesn't mean it's necessarily really used in that dialect. The ratios help indicate the chances that it really is AmE- or BrE-specific.) I've bolded the bit of the expression that could arguably be left out without a change in meaning and put links to places I've discussed these before, if available.

American expressions that British folk might find pleonastic
irregardless       5:1  (though generally considered non-standard in AmE)
in and of itself   3:1
tuna fish            3:1 (0 BrE instances as closed compound tunafish)
where I( a)m at  2:1  (again, not exactly standard AmE; and the corpus numbers have a lot of 'noise')

(An American one I didn't count was off of because the of is there for grammatical reasons not semantic ones. See the old post for discussion.)

British expressions that American folk might find pleonastic
beetroot             22:1
hosepipe            13:1
in N days' time  10:1
goatee beard      9:1
go and [verb]    e.g. go and see = 6:1 versus go see 1:2; note that go+verb predates go and verb in English--the and has been added in BrE, not deleted in AmE
postgraduate      6:1
station stop         4:1
at this moment in time    4:1
chocolate brownies         3:1
general consensus        1.6:1

You might want to argue that some of these are not redundant. It is a matter of perception. Brits might say beetroot isn't redundant because it distinguishes that part of the plant from the greens, but beetroot is redundant to Americans in the same way that carrotroot would be. Chocolate brownies is redundant because in AmE if it's not made of chocolate, it has to be called something else (e.g. blondies). (Americans do have the word brownie for other things too, the context is enough to let us know it's a baked good and not a fairy.) It's been argued to me that station stop is not redundant because trains sometimes have to stop (e.g. for a signal) when they're not at a station, and they sometimes pass stations without stopping. Did you know there's a tuna fruit?

In the end, the Twitter and Facebook and email people gave me more British [alleged] pleonasms than American ones.  Possible reasons for this:
  • Maybe British English does have more of them.
  • Maybe my social media posts were at better times for the US than the UK. (My waking hours don't quite fit the UK, in spite of 15 years' residence.)
  • Maybe Americans notice British pleonasms more than Britons notice American pleonasms (I was required to buy a copy of Strunk and White at college. I can't imagine the same happening in UK, where writing isn't a required university subject. So, maybe Americans are trained to cut extra things out of language where British folk are not. We're the country most likely to excise extra letters in the spelling system too.)
 Feel free to raise the American pleonasm count (or the British one) in the comments. If I like them, I may retroactively add them to the list here.



All my linguistically-correct tolerance for pleonasms aside, I am a ruthless redactor of extra words in academic writing. I train my students in Strunk and White's Rule 13: Omit needless words. If they write
--> Another reason why the categorisation of chocolate* is significant for humans derives from the fact that humans are essentially and uniquely a ‘languaging’ species. ...they get back the following, with an obnoxious note along the lines of "Your way: 24 words; My way: 11 words. Don't make me read twice as many words as I have to!!": 
Another reason why the categorisation of cChocolate* is also particularly relevant  significant for humans derives from the fact that humans are essentially and uniquely as a ‘languaging’ species.
[i.e.
Chocolate* is also particularly relevant for humans as a ‘languaging’ species]
* The noun has been changed to chocolate in order to protect the author's identity. But chocolate is particularly relevant to humans as a 'languaging' species. Without it, we couldn't have Cathy cartoons.
In writing academic essays for which (a) you have a word limit, so (b) the more words you use, the less you can say, and (c) you can be assured that your reader is going to be tired and grumpy before they even start reading, pithiness rules the day.


Acknowledgements
Thanks to those who contributed pleonasms to the list: Amanda P, Barbara J, Catherine P, David L, Iva, Jennifer, Kim E, Naomi N, Nicole S, Pam T, Rebecca M, Richard H, Sian C, Simon B.
I don't give full names unless I'm given permission to, and I am always happy to link your name to your blog/Twitter/webpage. So, if this applies to you, let me know and I'll add surnames and/or links.

155 comments

  1. It might be a matter of perspective. I know many Spanish-speakers. I do not speak Spanish myself. It is clear, however, that often, one can say in a couple of words in English what takes a longish sentence in Spanish. Most speakers of both languages acknowledge this. Also, redundancy can often be a stylistic choice. This is language, not mathematics, after all.

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  2. I thought the example "general consensus" was interesting. In BrE, is its meaning identical to "consensus"? The term is certainly popular in Canada, but as a more loose term. For example, I wouldn't say "general consensus" for a situation (e.g. votes in a political body) that required a true consensus, but I would use it for day-to-day agreements or societal generalizations, such as "The general consensus was that we should shorten the meetings by half an hour", or "There is a general consensus that teenagers should not smoke". In such instances, there may not have been 100% agreement, but there was a clear majority and little conflict.

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  3. Actually, just now, I read this in a Facebook post from Lloyd Cole:

    "There was a time, some years ago, when my thoughts on what a website should look and feel like were actually not too far from the general consensus, and so I built one. "

    Note that 'consensus' alone probably wouldn't work here. 'General' means 'of the general public' or something here. So, maybe I should cross it off the list?

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  4. For me, tuna is the fish, tunafish is the foodstuff. You can tune a guitar, but you can't tune a fish.

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  5. "General consensus" also caught my eye because, to my AmE ears, it would be used in the way Laura described and/or carry the sense Lynne mentioned. I'd certainly never consider the "general" redundant since, for me, it modifies the meaning of "consensus". –AAiNJ

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  6. I've occasionally heard and said things like "3 AM in the morning." I don't know whether people actually write this, though, and I don't know whether this is specifically AmE.

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  7. I meant to respond to your original tweet -- but then it slipped my mind -- that I get the impression that pleonastic phrases like "have a think" and "have a sit" are more common in the UK. This was driven home for me recently when my (UK) optician asked me to "have a blink".

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  8. "We baked a cake" provides incomplete information.

    Yes, I know the cake has been baked at some time in the past (rather than is being baked now, or is an aspiration for the future) but there are many life and death situations where it is vital to impart more precise information - such as that the cake was baked yesterday and is therefore still relatively fresh, and not 20 years ago, and may therefore no longer be edible :-)

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  9. Sometimes pleonasms are due to

    1) ignorance - saying "Sharia Law" is in effect saying "Law law" if one understands meaning of Sharia and/or

    2) laziness saying "PIN number" is saying "Personal Identification Number number" (but may be excusable because very few people can pronounce the capitals in acronyms to make it clear they're talking about a P.I.N. not a pin) or

    3) as, already discussed it's down to language being communication between people not computers where (almost) complete definition is necessary to communicate. It feels right to insert some words because they are like the brown paper scrunched up in a parcel - the language may appear broken but the meaning remains intact.

    Though no punishment is sufficiently harsh for those who use "very unique"...

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  10. 'Languaging' sounds very American to Brits (who like to carp at the American habit of converting nouns into verbs.

    Though perhaps that happened to 'carp' too, but a long time ago?).

    I assume it means 'language-using'? Do Americans say 'tooling' instead of 'tool-using'?

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  11. An earlier take on pleonasms from me -

    http://daikupcj.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/how-to-have-multiple-pleonasms.html

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  12. OK, the general consensus seems to be that I should strike 'general consensus' off the list. I will.

    Mr Subjunctive: The British use 'a.m.' much less than Americans (since they use the 24-hour clock more), so I don't think I've heard that one here.

    Laurel: 'have a sit' isn't showing up as *much* more British (4:3), but 'have a think' is, at about 6:1. I think you're probably right that that kind of construction is heard more in BrE.

    This is all good fodder for an argument that Americans like concision, Brits like to stretch phrasess out. If one were to want to stretch things out. As is the perception that Americans verb nouns more. (Though the student in question is not American or British, but the phrase 'languaging species' is heard quite a bit in linguistics. Not sure who started it.)

    Philip: my point was that the '-ed' is redundant, not the 'yesterday'. In any of these cases only the less-informative of the elements can be dropped without losing meaning. I did have some trouble deciding (and still am not sure I'm right) about which element of 'station stop' to highlight.

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  13. I think 'neck-tie' is generally a US usage. I've never heard it here in England and I remember being slightly puzzled by it when I first encountered it in an American novel (I thought it was a specific kind of tie, something like a cravat, except that made no sense in context).

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  14. Philip:
    "We baked a cake" wouldn't have been the unpleonasmic way of saying "Yesterday we baked a cake", "Yesterday we bake cake" would have been.

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  15. I (UK) dislike "station stop" heartily, probably for no good reason, just that I associate its introduction in train announcements with all the other horrors of rail denationalisation – my memory suggests (perhaps wrongly) that it wasn't an expression used before then.

    To be fair to the train operators though, (he said through gritted teeth), if it is true that the next stop may not be a station, it is also true that the next station may not be a stop.

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  16. Oh blimey – you've already said that.

    Age.

    My apologies.

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  17. In the UK I think we tend to say 'goatee' more than 'goatee beard', but definitely 'beetroot'. The one that I notice most of all as very American is 'go see', missing out the 'and'.

    I also noticed that when Americans say the date they tend to say 'April 29' or '29 April' whereas we would say 'April the 29th' or 'the 29th of April'. I don't suppose we need those words, but it sounds odd not to say them!

    You definitely need to say when you baked the cake by the way.

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  18. In "station stop" I think it would be more sensible to omit the "stop". Indeed I usually do, and I think "station stop" is usually only used in railway announcements, perhaps to avoid any ambiguity.

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  19. I've certainly heard the "3am in the morning" construction here (UK) from locals - I think it is used not because there is any confusion about when 0300 actually is, but to further emphasise the PAIN involved in being awake at such an hour.

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  20. "Station stop" isn't British English, it's just part of the pompous corporate drivel invented by, and only ever used by, the privatised train operators. I once saw a portaloo with the indication "public entrance door" on the (one and only) door. That's not British English either, it's just nonsense.

    Ageing Brit

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  21. From what I remember of learning Mandarin, it's more a case that the literal translation would be more like "Yesterday I To-Bake A Cake" the structure of their verbs is just completely different and they use something closer to the infinite (or at least an unchanging form) all the time, and rely on context to make sense of it. Things we regard as important for verb - active/passive voice; first, second or third person; singular or plural and tense are simply not there. When translating to European languages they're inferred by context.

    On the other hand, there is both an informal (ni, nimen) and polite/formal (nin, ninmen) form of you in both the singular and plural without needing titles (like English) or potential confusion with vous doubling up for plural and polite usage as in French. (Adding the -n makes it polite, adding -men makes it plural, wo is I, women is us).

    Language serving the cultural needs I guess.

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  22. The American 'pizza pie' sounds odd to the British ear, which wouldn't accept that a pizza is a pie in any case.

    Older Brits tend to moan about 'train/railway station' being redundant, as that is the default meaning of the word without additional qualification. Allegedly.

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  23. Came here to make the same comment as anonymous ageing Brit. Would also like to add horseriding. Or even worse, horseback riding.

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  24. Note on "station stop". Washington D.C. Metro operators always use it, e.g. "Your next station stop is Union Station."

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    1. I live in DC and haven't encountered that, but I think that has more to do with the personality of the individual operator as the phrasing for announcements doesn't seem to be standardized.

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  25. "Your next station stop" makes it clear why station stop isn't actually redundant.

    You stop at places like junctions, signals etc. that aren't stations and you shouldn't get off. In the UK at least for overland trains (and in Paris for some metro and similar lines) they don't stop at all stations at all times of day. I haven't caught it in a while, but there are certainly trains from where I live (York) to London where I get on at the LAST stop before London, despite the ~200 miles and several large stations (Doncaster, Peterborough at a minimum) and probably 15-20 smaller stations the train passes through. I would occasionally end up in Doncaster and catch the stopping train which stopped at stations 3 times between Donnie and York (at places that even if you live here you can't find on the map).

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  26. The post in postgraduate is not a pleonasm to my BrE ears, unless I've been using it wrong. I would understand a graduate as having a BA/BSc etc, and a postgraduate [student] to be studying for or have achieved an MA/MSc etc.

    In short, graduate implies a person in day-to-day life who has a degree; postgraduate implies someone involved with higher education much more specifically.

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  27. As far as chopping out excess, I think Mark Twain may have reached the nub of the matter:
    "Eschew surplusage." This and many other writing issues are listed in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses".:)

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  28. Spotted at lunch today: "vine tomatoes". You know, as opposed to those tomatoes that grow in the ground. Not.

    I can't remember having heard this one in the US, despite encountering "vine-ripened tomatoes" on many occasions.

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  29. For 'postgraduate' the difference is specifically in modifying usages.
    Postgraduate student = AmE graduate student
    Postgraduate degree = AmE graduate degree.

    The noun 'postgraduate' is really that modifier being used as a noun--i.e. 'a postgraduate' is a shortening of 'a postgraduate student'. This is possible because of the 'post', whereas in AmE it has to be 'graduate student'.

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  30. Is there redundancy in "go and see"?
    To my ears, "go see" is equivalent to "go to see", or "go in order to see", whereas "go and see" suggests two actions.
    But then English is not my first language.

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  31. I've occasionally heard and said things like "3 AM in the morning." I don't know whether people actually write this, though, and I don't know whether this is specifically AmE.

    Then there's the song "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning", which seems to murmur pleonasm through Frank Sinatra's melodiously silky voice.

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  32. ...and speaking of 'vine tomatoes', I seem to remember reading someone blogging about overwrought menu language, much of which was pleonastic. But I can't remember/find what it was. Anyone know?

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  33. There is no mystery to vine tomatoes. They are sold while still on a length (sometimes two) of the original vine. Just look in any supermarket.

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  34. The menu with vine tomatoes was boasting that when the restaurant bought them they were still on the vine.

    There was a menu-speak altercation between me and Clint Aspin on this thread on saying please in restaurants. This may be what you're thinking about, Lynne.

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  35. I started a post on station stop last night but deleted it in sleepy error.

    I'd never heard the ridiculous term because it's only used by some railway operators. The others have more sense.

    It does mean something, though, although contrasting with something that was more common in the past: stops at places other than at stations. They might be for timetabling reasons, to leave track clear for more important trains, or to take on coal and/or water.

    One such stop gave rise to one of the nation's favourite poems Adelstrop by Edward Thomas.

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  36. British English uses "Go and" far more than American English does, I gather. My father would command his dog to "Go and lie down!" which is definitely pleonastic, I think.

    I find the American use of the conditional tense can be very convoluted: "If I would have been a better [of a] skater" as opposed to "Had I been a better skater..." The "of a" probably isn't used in that particular sentence, but I have certainly heard it in contexts (which, naturally, I can't think of this minute) where I would have omitted it.

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  37. Station Stop is a weird one - sounds wrong but accurately describes the situation, so I'm reluctantly ok with it.

    But beetroot? What? Why? I don't eat it much myself but we do have a lot of sugar beet farming around my area and although sugar beet and beetroot are similar, they are not the same. 'Beet' could be any of the root vegetables in that family, but beetroot is very specifically the strange purple stuff in your salad. And I've just discovered that the leaves are also edible so it makes a lot of sense to call it beetroot. If someone said they were serving beet I wouldn't know what variety nor what part.

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  38. I also think that the British use of "go and xxxx" is very specifically telling someone to do two actions. The second action is of prime importance to the person being told (sleep, sit down, look it up, etc.) but the first action (go) is of prime importance to the teller: don't do it here.
    There is actually a very crude insult that kind of replicates this without the use of 'go': 'f*** off and die'.
    So when we Brits use "go and have a think about it" we're actually telling people to bugger off and leave us alone.

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  39. Nick: The American solution is to refer to beet greens (as one would for other root greens--e.g. turnip greens; these things in my experience are more common in US cuisine). If we need to distinguish beets from sugar beets, we say 'red beets'. Since sugar beets are also roots, one could argue that 'red beet' does a better job of disambiguating.

    The BrE use of 'go and' is not about giving commands--most of the examples I can see are in the first person. E.g. (from the corpus) "I'm just looking for someone to go and have a beer with". Before the 18th century (and now in America), that would just be 'go have a beer with' (if the Early Moderns did that kind of thing). It's hard to argue that the 'and' is needed since people got along fine without it.

    David: thanks, but I was thinking of something more recent that was a complete menu critiqued, or something similar.

    Re 'station stops': they're what inspired me to put the ratios in. I was looking up train fares on Amtrak the other day and was really surprised to see info about how many 'station stops' there are on the service. I'd thought of it as an exclusively British thing, and I suspect it's been imported. I might ask Ben Yagoda of Not One-Off Britishisms to have a look at it...

    The 'better of a skater' type things I can call 'unnecessarily wordy' but I have a harder time calling them pleonasms because (like the 'off of' mentioned in the post) the 'of' doesn't seem to repeat a meaning (because 'of' is pretty meaningless). And before you say 'that's just semantics', consider that you're talking to a semanticist. ;-)

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  40. Fair enough, Lynne! I guess there are just different ways of describing what beet you're talking about.

    I think I might be skewing "go and xxx" by thinking of instances relating to my kids and colleagues: "go and tell mummy", "go and fix the mess you've made" etc. ;-)

    Actually, thinking about how I would use "go and have a beer" in relation to me, I don't think I would necessarily use "go" at all, just "looking for someone to have a beer with". Unless, the drinking of the beer is specifically in a different location in which case we would have to 'go' and...

    Hmmm, I can't help but feel that for me the 'going' is very separate from the 'doing'. Maybe the fact that the 'and' has appeared in the phrase has altered the original sense slightly.

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  41. I've never heard "station stop" here in AU, but it would be quite confusing. Here a station is where trains stop, and a stop is where either a bus or a tram stops. I would imagine a "station stop" to be some sort of transport interchange, where I could get off a train and get on a tram.

    Tomatoes don't grow on vines here, either. To me "vines" are climbing plants. Tomatoes don't climb. You can tie tomatoes to a trellis to support them, but they won't climb up it themselves.

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  42. Lynne

    It's hard to argue that the 'and' is needed since people got along fine without it.

    I find it very easy to argue that it's needed.

    For me it's a matter of grammar. There's a general rule that I can't just stick any old two verbs together. Specific sub-rules follow:

    1. I can't stick together two verb forms used as commands.
    COMMAND 1 Go
    COMMAND 2 Lie down
    Go and lie down.

    2. I can't stick together two verb forms used as infinitives.
    INFINITIVE 1 to go with
    INFINITIVE 2 to have a beer with
    to go with and have a beer with.
    to go and have a beer with.

    Yes there are a handful of idiomatic exceptions. But they are idioms. I'm grammatically constrained from using the and-less construction generally with just any old verb.

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  43. In AmE we say "Go jump in a lake." Would some BrE speakers feel constrained to say "Go and jump in a lake"?

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  44. I have a very similar grammatical rule for try.

    COMMAND 1 Try
    COMMAND 2 Speak to her
    Try and speak to her

    The beauty of this is that it sits on the fence between Try speaking to her and Try to speak to her.

    I'm not aware of American or any other variety saying Try speak to her.

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  45. On a side topic: have you ever covered "stop" and "stay"? To this AmE speaker it is striking that BrE speakers will say "Are you stopping here" when the stopper has in fact already come to rest -- where I would say "Are you staying here?"

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  46. empty

    Would some BrE speakers feel constrained to say "Go and jump in a lake"?

    Yes.

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  47. Philip C James

    Sometimes pleonasms are due to

    1) ignorance - saying "Sharia Law"


    Whether or not you the speaker know the meaning of sharia is immaterial. It's what the hearer knows that counts. In the vast majority of cases it's safer, wiser, more considerate to say sharia law

    2) laziness saying "PIN number"

    Again, it's the norm. In a few cases it can also be safer, wiser, more considerate. Yes, usually when somebody says PIN it's clear from the context what they're talking about. But if somebody introduced a completely new topic of conversation with I forgot my pin/PIN yesterday, not everybody would guess correctly what they were speaking of.

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  48. At this moment in time is an ungainly inelegant phrase which I choose to avoid, but not because it's pleonastic. For me the meaning is quite different from at this moment.

    The concept is 'now as seen within the broadest context'. By contrast at this moment strongly implies exclusive concentration on this brief instant.

    If it wasn't clear from the context that I meant 'now within history' i suppose I'd add something like in the grand scheme of things

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  49. interesting
    to clarify
    = An acronym is an initialism that can be pronounced as a word, e.g. PIN vs NBC
    = It's more accurate to say: "try to do something", not 'and' b/c that assumes success, not an attempt. One cd argue that 'try' not be needed if 'and'.
    = There are tomato plants, and those are usually larger tomatoes than those tiny ones on vines.
    = There are no verb tenses in Chinese, so 'go', 'see', 'look', or whatever is IT. Most have heard "long time no see", a direct translation from Chinese. It has been a long time since I saw you.
    So "I bake a cake" doesn't make sense in English unless talking about what someone does every day (the habitual tense); IOW not enough information in either language. If past, yesterday or last week or whatever has to be said. English conveys time and time sequence as well as definite past, past continuous, etc. Heck, for first person present we have three ways of saying it, each with a different meaning: I go, I'm going, I do go. Our verb tenses convey a lot of information, time, continuity, frequency, etc.
    = Sometimes a word is added b/c of rhythm. Go and see what's happening. Of course, 'go see' is correct and shorter, but sounds more abrupt, with the 'and', it flows. I won't start on using the subjunctive -- Spanish beats us hands down.

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  50. lexorcista

    Try to do it means only 'attempt to do it'.

    Try doing it means only 'do it to see see what it's like'.

    Try and do something is nicely vague. It could mean either or both. Often it means 'see what happens when you try to do it' — sort of try trying to do it.

    In some supermarkets here you can buy vine tomatoes in all sizes. My guess is that you'd call them 'tomatoes on the vine'.

    Go see is simply not correct in my grammar.

    PS It took me ages to understand what you meant by 'b/c'. I'm still puzzling over One cd argue that 'try' not be needed if 'and'..

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  51. Don't ignore the ratios! BrE speakers are not 'constrained' to say 'go and'. As the ratios indicate, they say 'go see' half as often as Americans, but it is definitely a possible way of phrasing things (and has been since at least the 14th century). Examples from the British National Corpus include

    "you ought to go get one of these!"
    "Go see Fred and he's probably got a few more pounds ready available "
    "I told him to go jump in a lake"

    'Try and' is something Americans are taught not to say because it's considered to be illogical. The preferred AmE form is 'try to'. I have to say, that one really bugs me when editing colleagues' writing--I have been taken to task for changing 'try and's to 'try to's.

    Notice that the American version works across sentence types/tenses, but 'try and' can only be used of future events. You can say 'He tried to leave, and eventually succeeded', but saying 'He tried and left, and eventually succeeded' does not work. This one probably needs its own blog post. Maybe the next one.

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  52. Lynne

    Don't ignore the ratios! BrE speakers are not 'constrained' to say 'go and'.

    This British speaker is strongly constrained. In my grammar the verb go is in a different class from those words which allow a bare infinitive to follow — technically as 'complement'. The only verbs that are not so constrained are
    do
    • modal auxiliaries
    • near-auxiliaries such as dare and need
    • causative verbs such as make and have.

    OK I understand other English speakers who don't share this constraint. And there are common examples which I seem to have internalised as idioms, and therefore don't always recognise. Possibly my speech repertoire will develop to the point that I use those idioms myself. Just possibly my grammar will change so that I lose the constraint and recategorised go along with dare and need.

    At the moment, this seems doubtful. But my grammar has changed over the years in areas involving such hugely important verbs as do and have

    The ratios cast no light on my personal grammar. I could perhaps use them to support a hypothesis that many British speakers are changing their grammar, while many others share mine.

    Try and is is not illogical, it's vague. You may sees this as a bad thing. I find it a desirable enrichment to the language.

    Changing try and to try to may make the sentence more direct — but that's another way of saying 'ruder'. Not much ruder, of course, but it carries the undesirable implication that the addressee may not be capable of what you are suggesting.

    What makes ever-so-slightly rude, I think, is that it removes the blend of senses with try ---ing.

    Try and works with future reference because it's used in suggestions

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  54. The argument that it's not logical would be that if you have to ask them to try, then you can't also ask them to do. The two things on either side of the 'and' need to have equivalent truth values (which is why it can only work in the future, where the truth is not known). I'm telling you about the argument, not arguing that you have to change what you say, of course.

    But the argument that 'try and' is less direct, doesn't work for me. If I'm asking them to try and I'm asking them to do it, I'm asking them more strongly to do it. What I *can* see is that because 'try and' is idiomatic in BrE, it's less marked--less noticeable--and so the 'try to' *feels* more direct not because it's a more direct way of saying it, but because it is the more marked way it and so it feels like the speaker has varied from the well-worn path of comfortable suggestions in order to say it in a way that requires more processing from the addressee.

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  55. It's interesting. There is definitely a different emotional tone in my experience of Br English between "try and " and "try to"

    For an example exchange with my teenager

    "Try to clean the bath when you've finished" - a happy optimistic suggestion

    "Try and clean the bath when you've finished" - a jaundiced suggestion, possibly meaning "try to remember to clean the bath"

    I think that's it. "Try to" implies that they may not be able to
    "Try and" implies that they are able to but their failure to do the task may be at some other step in the process

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  56. Nice explanation! Your and David's readings of how it might be emotionally read differ, but that's exactly the kind of thing that's liable to differ.

    (That 'liable' went in there naturally, but it might be fodder for the discussion David's having on the 'likely' post!)

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  57. I honestly can't say any of the examples of "Go x" from BrE you give unless I stop and force myself to read them slowly, word for word, from the page. As soon as I read them without that extra effort, there's "Go and..." that slips in.

    So I'm now curious about the age of the user, their class and geographic location. Is it someone who is influenced by a lot of American TV to use that form who I would assume (without much evidence) to be under-25 or so? (I know, from reading your post, it used to be the default form here, but there aren't any living users left.) Is there a geographical restriction so it's a dialect use from a particular dialect I'm just unfamiliar with? Is there a particular class usage and I'm instantly, as so often through history, betraying my class as soon as I open my mouth (or hit my keyboard in this case)?

    My under-25 minimal evidence is mostly the pronunciation of lieutenant. I'm noticing a creeping AmE lieu-tenant rather than the BrE left-tenant which, when I've asked, seems to be related to watching American cop shows where the superior is often of that rank. It seems to decline towards 25 I assume as more people realise what's going on and correct back towards the standard BrE pronunciation.

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  58. ONe more flavour of attempting to use Br English with teenagers

    "Why do you always bang on my door when I've gone to bed?"
    "Try cleaning the bath!"

    Again, there is no comment on her ability or otherwise to clean the bath, it is her ability to apply this skill correctly that is in question

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  59. Rachel

    The reason we differ in our readings is that cleaning the bath is loaded with negative emotional overtones.

    I was thinking of examples like

    Try and speak to her. I'm sure you'll both feel happier.

    Try and read at least the first page. I've a felling you might enjoy it.

    Try and let me know if you're going to be late. I do worry about you.


    Even the only person who might be happy is the speaker it's still emotionally positive. Unlike cleaning the bath where the adult speaker is upset, even angry, by default — and the best they can hope for is to be less unhappy.

    Try and clean the bath is still a suggestion. The problem is that it's a blatantly insincere suggestion. You can't seriously claim that the cleaning is in the interest of the teenager. I believe this is what's know as a suggestion that lacks a necessary felicity condition.

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  60. Lynne, I feel your pain when it comes to editing others' verbose writing! I'm UK-based but from NZ and I edit my British staffs' reports exactly the same way you edit your students' work. It hadn't occurred to me that the waffling - sorry, lack of conciseness - was a British thing!

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  61. Although Nancy Mitford believed that Americans waffled, and wrote some very splendid paragraphs, as in "Don't Tell Alfred". But she was well-known for disliking the USA, however much she may have liked the individual Americans she came across.

    But back to pleonasms, I definitely always say "Go and" do something - I heard myself say to my younger grandson this morning, when he was getting tired, "Shall we go and go home?"

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  62. Eloise: the BNC was collected in the late 1980s, so whoever the speakers were, they are at least middle aged by now. Rather than American television it's likely that the 'go [verb]' construction has just been hanging around in Britain, still being said by some people in some places or classes.

    I note that a lot of the 'try' and 'go' expressions that people are trying out are in commands--but the minority of uses of them will be in the imperative form--so don't forget 'I try...' 'I go...' when thinking about them. That may give a different impression about what the connotations are.

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  63. US here. I don't find "in N days' time" or "At this moment in time" particularly British. Postgraduate to me means someone continuing their education after a graduate degree (masters), either toward another degreee (doctorate maybe) or not. General consensus to me means less than a consensus (general consensus means that most agree while consensus means that everyone agrees). Station stop is common on New Jersey Transit (as in all conductors use this formulation all the time), but not with the general public. Irregardless. I hate that word. Seriously.

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  64. I would just like to note that in math/physics "a moment in time" is not redundant because you can construct moments in domains other than the timeline. For example, an objects center of mass is more properly it's moment of center of mass which is a moment in space. I done know if this is just an artifact of the terminology or if it has its roots in an older connotation of "moment" that was not so closely linked to time.

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  65. Ah, I assumed it was a more living document than that, thanks. (As you might tell, although I'm interested, it's certainly not my academic area.)

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  66. One of my peeves cropped up again in a TV show yesterday. Irregardless. My sense is this is mainly AmE?

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  67. Another redundancy which annoys me is that in "the hoi poloi".

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  68. In the UK I often hear: "Past experience" and "Forward planning".

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  69. I am not a linguist, so please excuse any elementary errors in this contribution. I think that there should be a difference between written and spoke English. As a (retired) academic, I always aim for brevity with the highest possible ratio of meaning to words used. But as an Englishman from the Midlands, I prefer my spoken speech to have a pleasant rhythm. A short sentence like "Go and see him" has a nice rhythm with a stress on the 'Go' and the 'see'. The sentence "Go see him" would sound more like a command. Of course, dialects differ in speech rhythms, and so what works in my spoken version of the language may not work in other dialects.

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  70. Lynne

    I note that a lot of the 'try' and 'go' expressions that people are trying out are in commands--but the minority of uses of them will be in the imperative form--so don't forget 'I try...' 'I go...' when thinking about them. That may give a different impression about what the connotations are.

    I was well into a post on non-command uses of go and and try and when I began to realise how complicated the grammar of go is and how that can affect the data. I'll have to split this answer for reason of size.

    1
    We don't think of go as an auxiliary verb, and yet that's clearly how it functions in FUTURE-making forms. We language teachers rightly present going to as an indivisble unit, even though it's formally going + to-infinitive.

    The data may also show going to representing a different grammatical construction. Go is, of course, usually a non-auxiliary 'lexical' verb. It generally requires a following adverbial of place e.g. go there but the data is likely to include examples of go with the place 'understood' .

    So I'm going to see him may be one or other of the following

    * roughly similar to I'll see him
    * 'I'm leaving now [for that place we've just been talking about] in order to see him'.

    This use of go as an auxiliary (or near-auxiliary if you prefer) followed by a to-infinitive is confined to PROGRESSIVE forms (is going to, was going to, has been going to etc).

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  71. 2
    In a comparable use, go is followed by an –ing form (go walking, go swimming etc). This use can be used with any finite form of go (had gone swimming etc) or even with infinitive (may go running, to go climbing etc).

    Again, the construction may be formally identical with one involving go as a lexical verb. Usually the semantics of the other word will make it clear He went whistling almost certainly means 'He went [to that place we've been talking about] whistling as he went'. You'd have to be careful to exclude these from raw data, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were syntactically ambiguous items.

    I think it's fair to distinguish the two uses. When go is a proper lexical verb, it can be substituted with other motion verbs.
    He came whistling.
    • She left running
    .

    When it's an auxiliary (or near-auxiliary) the 'going' part need not be simultaneous with the lexical-verb part.
    He got on his bike and went swimming

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  72. 3
    The use of go and that we've been considering is another auxiliary (or near auxiliary) use of go. In earlier English and in contemporary American English go may be followed by a 'bare' or 'citation' form of a lexical verb.

    Now, in Modern English there's no formal difference between an imperative (command) form, a bare infinitive form, and most Present Simple Forms —or a subjunctive form for those who use it.

    Most of the examples we've considered can be assigned one of these two analyses
    • Go IMPERATIVE jump IMPERATIVE in the lake
    • to go INFINITIVE have INFINITIVE a beer with

    Some AmE speakers use a recognisable subjective in speech in a way that BrE speaker reserve for the most formal of prose. So I gather that there's a possibility of
    • I insist that he go SUBJUNCTIVE jump SUBJUNCTIVE in the lake
    (My impression is that this is more likely when that + subjective is uded to introduce an indirect command.)

    I'm not sure whether the other theoretical possibility is actually realised.
    * Usually after that we go PRESENT SIMPLE INDICATIVE have PRESENT SIMPLE INDICATIVE a beer with Jim.

    Just as auxiliary use [1] of go is confined to going (as part of a finite progressive form), so this use [3] is confined to go (usually as an imperative or an infinitive).

    My impression is that the IMPERATIVE and INFINITIVE uses are much more common than the others. When BrE speakers try to think of go and equivalents, we tend to compose simple clauses. That's why we almost always offer you command sentences.

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  73. With reference to "station stop". I find it ugly, but do recall that many years ago, when the Channel Tunnel first opened I was on a train which ran directly to Waterloo International. I think there was some agreement that this route would be run for a year. I caught it at Newark and was interested to find the announcements were in English, French and Dutch. The East Coast line is electric, so at some point we stopped to change to a diesel engine to go round London. We were in a station and waited there for perhaps half an hour. The multilingual announcements had ceased, when suddenly there was a loud cry through the speakers - "Get back on the train!". Some poor passenger, who presumably did not speak English, French or Dutch had decided that this was not just a station, it was a station stop.

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  74. To a gardener, "vine tomato" is not a pleonasm, because some varieties of tomato grow on bushes, not vines:

    From http://realseeds.co.uk/bushandvine.html

    BUSH TOMATOES
    Bushy plants to 3 or 4 feet high
    Side-shoots bear flowers & fruit quickly (so don't grow very long)
    May still need a stake or two
    Don't need 'pinching -out'

    VINE TOMATOES
    Very lanky plants to 6 or 8 feet high
    Side-shoots don't flower soon (thus grow long)
    Need tall stake or string
    Side-shoots must be 'pinched-out' to concentrate growth into one upright fruiting stalk.

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  75. 4
    BrE go and — in my grammar and I think more generally — is used for what I've called auxiliary use [3] in the two most common sentence types so for us it's
    • Go IMPERATIVE and jump IMPERATIVE in the lake!
    • to go INFINITIVE and have INFINITIVE a beer with

    The only thing that stops me from analysing this as conjoined lexical verbs is that other motion verbs don't work. We don't say
    • *Cycle and jump in the lake!
    • *somebody to leave and have a beer with

    Again, you can't just count up the data without identifying go as being used as a lexical verb or as a (near) auxiliary.

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  76. 5
    To confuse matters further, there's another use of go and as a quasi-auxiliary. It's a bit like the two-word verb end up, usually with the connotation of 'undesirable/undesired result'.

    Often (but not always) we use it with a sense of retrospection using PAST or PERFECT finite forms.
    • He went and broke it.
    • I've gone and sent it to the wrong address.

    There's a jocular variant:
    • She's been and gone and done it.

    Again the justification for seeing it as a quasi-auxiliary is that we don't say
    • He cycled and broke it.
    • I've left and sent it to the wrong address.

    However, I think there are a few verbs we can put in the same class.
    • He came and spoilt it.
    • Run and tell you mother.

    Perhaps we'd do better saying that go and [5] is actually a lexical verb where the 'move away' meaning has been severely watered down.

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  77. I seem to remember that we called it "tuna fish" when I was a child and canned tuna was still something of a novelty.
    Kate (UK)

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  78. Anonymous, if you object to translanguage pleonasms like the hoi polloi, do you object to them in place names like Edinburgh Castle, River Avon, Pendle Hill etc? (Pendle Hill, apart from the famous witch trials, is particular egregious, being called "hill" in three different languages.)

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  79. yes, and there's also:
    = pre-planning
    = upcoming exhibition (makes me think of upchucking
    (vomiting, if you haven't been to Australia)
    Lynneguist's explanation was accurate. Words joined by 'and' are equal. That's why it has to be 'try to' unless you mean someone will try and succeed. One wonders then if 'try' is needed.
    wrt to places, East Timor is repetitive (but you have to know the other language)
    Here’s another example of a tautological place name; “the La Brea Tar Pits” literally means "the the tar tar pits" .
    Same for River Avon, Guadalquivir, Mississippi River,….; Deschutes Falls, …; Grand Manan Island, CA (grand island island – Maliseet-Passamaquoddy-Penobscot Indian); and possibly the winner: Pendleton Hill, North Stonington, Connecticut. (Hill Hill Town Hill) or, possibly, (Hill Hill Hill Hill).

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  80. I was interested in the relative usage of "irregardless" between the US and UK, since I remember hearing fairly often in England.

    Google confirms that it is indeed around twice as common in the US (compared with "regardless").

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  81. I've never called tuna "tuna fish" or "tunafish", and don't know many people who do. I wonder if it's a regional thing in the U.S. rather than a characteristic of all American English.

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  82. Eloise, Anonymous

    The hoi polloy was an item of university slang invented when every singly student knew Greek. The earliest spellings known to the OED use two alphabets the ὁι πολλοι. That's how Byron spelled it.

    Centuries later in 1905 , some clever-dick journalist decided to omit the the. He was in effect saying 'Look at me, how clever I am for knowing a bit of Greek.'

    Ugh!.

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  83. Sorry, (BrE, me)...
    There's nought wrong with 'go and see' as it is a substitution for ...
    'Go [to a place] and see [whatever]'.

    Quoting Professor Higgins (My Fair Lady)...
    "I don't know what to think of the Americans, they haven't spoken Wnglish for years."

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  84. Oops...finger slip:

    "I don't know what to think of the Americans, they haven't spoken English for years."

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  85. lexorcista

    Words joined by 'and' are equal.

    Not necessarily. Think of bread and butter.

    Long, long ago, Geek rhetoricians recognised the use of and to non non-equals and termed hendiadys. In one of the greatest modern reference grammars, a team by Randolph Quirk have studied two form of it under the heading pseudo-coordination.

    One involves 'commendatory' adjectives: nice, lovely, good and the related adverb well. Their examples:
    nice and warm
    nice and short
    lovely and cool
    good and long
    good and hard
    good and fast
    well and truly drunk


    The other (Surprise, surprise!) are like try. They note others
    • like try: stop, go, come, hurry up, run
    • like sit: stand (positional) lie
    Their examples
    I'll try and come tomorrow.
    They sat and talked about the good old times.
    Don't just stand there and grin.
    He went and complained about us.
    They've gone and upset her.
    Run and tell her to come here at once.
    Why did you go and do a silly think like that>


    [A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language Chapter-sections 13.98, 13.99]

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  86. Graham again02 May, 2015 16:42

    I wonder how many of those people who object to the pleonasm in "the next station stop is Trumpton Parkway" would also object to the even more pleonastic "the next station we will be stopping at will be Trumpton Parkway".

    Also, another gardening point. In BrE the term 'beet' is ambiguous, not only because as well as beetroot there are such things as sugar-beet and leaf-beet [which these days seems to be more commonly called 'Swiss chard', presumably because that sounds more exotic], but also because swedes [='rutabagas' in AmE] and turnips [=???? in AmE] are also considered to be kinds of beet.

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  87. Why are we still calling station shop a pleonasm? It's a dreadful-sounding term but it means something different from station and different from stop.

    I'm beginning to think that pleonasm is a concept like seventeenth century witch and 1920's kulak. They're thing to be accused of, but they probably never actually existed.

    None of the alleged pleonasms so far have impressed me as truly synonymous with anything simpler.

    (I saw a film last night which was spoiled by serious reference to kulaks. I'm still brooding.

    My wife's mother's father had a decent harvest one year and hired somebody to help him. A jealous neighbour denounced him as a kulak, which was effectively a death-sentence.)

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  88. Rather to my surprise, station stop merits an entry in the OED

    station stop n.
    (a) a halt or stop that takes place at a station, as opposed to elsewhere on a railway line;
    (b) orig. U.S. a stopping-place that is a station (in this sense sometimes regarded as tautologous).

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  89. What about a press that is the opposite of a lemonade? I'm thinking particularly of MOT, which cars on the UK are required to pass each year one they are 3 years old or older. The acronym - one says em oh tee, not mot - stands for Ministry of Transport, the predecessor to the current DVLA, but nobody ever says MOT test, it's always MOT.

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  90. Sorry - BLOODY predictive text. A phrase that is the opposite of a pleonasm.

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  91. The fancy-menu-speak analysis may have been Dan Jurafsky's.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/dining/dan-jurafsky-a-linguist-decodes-restaurant-menus.html
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/02/la-carte

    Jurafsky recently published The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu.

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  92. It bothers me when Americans say "ice skating". In Canada, it's just "skating".

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  93. Just for the record, I'm not saying of these 'pleonasms' is wrong. I'm saying that people complain about them. People say what they say and then they try to justify it with 'logic'. But really, people just say what they say.

    David: thanks for checking OED on 'station stop'--very interesting to see the 'orig. U.S.' there, but also to see the 'often regarded as tautological' (i.e. a pleonasm). Given that there are more UK occurrences in the corpus (and I hear it and hear people complaining about it more in UK), I'd assumed it was UK. But, of course, the difference in numbers is probably due to the more widespread use of train travel in the UK.

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  94. Colleen

    Don't you have roller-skating in Canada?

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  95. I'm the rare American who takes a commuter train to work, and the conductor says "station stop." I think I've heard it as well when riding Amtrak (the long distance passenger RR in the US). So I would guess it's a railroad term that is more often used in the UK mostly because train travel is far more prevalent there than here.

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  96. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  97. @lynne,
    I think what the OED is trying to say is that the sense of "a stop at a station" is neutral. The American tautological sense is "a station where trains stop". When conductors use the term (while on a train at least), it is of course impossible to know which they mean. I honestly never heard a useage that is obviously the latter and not the former.

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  98. Mrs Redboots - those anti-pleonasms can be just as irritating as tautology or redundancy! MOT is a good example - another one is 'musical' instead of 'musical comedy'. But I guess the usages are now entrenched in the language.
    I confess that when I saw the title of this post, I thought was a mis-spelling of the scientific term neoplasm (new growth; tumour) - it's another 'opposite' and an anagram of pleonasm.

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  99. @Colleen: it bothers me when Canadians say "hockey" for "ice-hockey" :)

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  100. Boris

    I don't know about American train journeys, but here in the UK most of the journeys I take pass though stations where the train doesn't stop.

    Two of the OED quotes can only mean 'a stopping place which is a station':

    Had Hartford not been a station stop and No. 20 consequently having gained..headway before the accident occurred the consequences would have been appalling.

    It will run non-stop to Truro (279 miles).., except Saturdays, when the down train will make St. Erth (299½ miles) its first station stop.

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  101. Mrs Redboots

    I just loved that press that is the opposite of a lemonade!

    The trouble with your predictive text and my spellchecker is they are not equipped to profit from redundancy.

    I'm dismayed by all the slagging off there's been in this thread of redundancy — as if it wasn't one of the most valuable aids to communication through language.

    The Ministry of Transport was not the precursor of the DVLA. It lives on as part of the Department of the Environment. What the DVLA took over was the role of dozens of local government offices.

    I wondered whether metonymy would cover your 'reverse-pleonasm' idea. Perhaps not, but it does clearly cover
    Swansea = 'the DVLA'
    the town hall = 'local government administration'

    I suspect that MOT is double ellipsis 'test for certificate originally issued by the MOT' i.e. MOT certificate test.

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  102. @James L. Parker

    Come to northern New Jersey; you'll not be so rare here. And you'll hear "station stop" fairly regularly (possibly always) on NJ Transit trains, too.

    – AiNJ

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  103. Anonymous

    Come to northern New Jersey

    That's it!

    What's obvious in one place is less obvious in another. If, like Colleen, you're in Canada it's obvious that hockey and skating are ice-hockey and ice-skating. The rest of us often have to be more specific.

    What's obvious at one time is less obvious in another. Nowadays it's usually obvious that the next stop of a train will be in a station. In the past we had stops for the benefit of the physical running of the railway, and we had stops at rural halts.

    The more I think of it, the more my indifference to the notion of pleonasm shifts into pretty vehement hostility.

    Adding words with that wonderful quality of semantic redundancy is a benign habit which, in principle, makes it easier for the listener to know what you're talking about. How dare they throw back this considerate communication strategy back in my face?

    Friction arises when the reduced-information wording would intact be totally obvious to the hearer. So the ungrateful hearer assumes the speaker to be garrulous.

    More perniciously, the hearer may assume the speaker to be ignorant of some great truth. That's when I really hate the word pleonasm.

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  104. @David Crosbie

    I agree that bath-cleaning is an activity less beneficial to the bath-cleaner than to the following bather.

    I think the point I was trying to make still stands, that you "try" things without "and" if you are unsure you will be able to do/like them directly and you "try and" if the inability to complete the task lies elsewhere. E.g. try and see - the question of difficulty lies not with the visual receptors. I recommend James Reason's "Human Error" on the possible ways we can fail to complete a task

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  105. "I (BrE) can complete the job in three days, but I'm on holiday for the next week, so I will finish in ten days' time."

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  106. Well, 107 comments in and I suddenly thought of a pleonasm that's inimitably, unmistakably British:

    A good value for the money.

    Or does that not qualify as a pleonasm? This British stock expression has mystified me from the moment I first heard it. In the U.S. we say only that something was a good value (or, alternatively, a good buy).

    After all, a good value is by definition something that's a) worth having and b) not too expensive. So that phrase alone carries with it the obvious implication that whatever it is you've bought, it didn't cost too much (money, that is).

    But by all means, the Brits here are welcome to try to -- I mean, to try and -- convince me why their construction adds vital meaning and clarity missing from our shortened version.

    And not to change the subject, but perhaps the word station in station stop was once a useful nonpleonastic differentiator for that other kind of stop trains were once known to make, a whistle stop.

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  107. Dick

    I would never say a good value and I don't think other BrE speakers would say it.

    I (?we) say good value, and we often mean it in a non-monetary sense.

    She's always good value means 'it's always well worth it when you you expend time on being in her company.'

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  108. No end of brilliant quotes are assigned to Oscar Wilde, but this one appears to be true, a bon mot in Lady Windermere's fan.

    — What is a cynic?
    — A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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  109. Rachel

    if you are unsure you will be able to do/like them directly

    It's not the things but the doing of them

    I'll try to swim — I may not be able to
    I'll try swimming — I may not like it

    The precise meaning of try and depends on some or all attendant circumstances of the proposed trying. It's pragmatic, not semantic.

    I frequently use try and, and it's generally a device to avoid choosing between try to do it and try doing it.

    However you the speaker choose to deploy try and, the point is that you have a richer repertoire — a choice of three, where the other poor sods only have two.

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  110. And I would probably say "I'll try and swim on Monday", meaning that I might not be able to go to the pool. "I'll try to swim", to me at least, implies I might not physically succeed, but splash around going nowhere fast.

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  111. Mrs Redboots

    And I would probably say "I'll try and swim on Monday",

    And I suspect that if you were more confident of the possibility you might say 'I'll go and have a swim on Monday'.

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  113. Dammit, I just lost a comment because I'd filed it under the wrong identity ("Design Thinking" is an identity for work.)

    What was I saying? Oh yes, @David Crosbie, @Mrs[.] Redboots (that "Mrs" looks naked with no period after it ;-)) -- to this Am.E. speaker, neither of those options feels quite natural.

    "I'll go swim on Monday/I'll go swimming on Monday" are interchangeable and mean that I'm committed to go to the pool and can't think of any reason why that would change.

    "I'll try to go swimming on Monday/I'll try to swim on Monday" are also interchangeable, meaning I wonder if I'll really feel up to going all the way to the pool, fighting the crowded locker room, getting changed into an unflattering swimsuit, and confronting the nitwits who are *always in the wrong lane even though the signs clearly say "fast," "medium," and "slow"*. Sigh.

    "I'll try to swim on Monday" is also the best fit if I'm a novice swimmer screwing up my courage. I might also say "I'll try swimming on Monday," but to me that's better suited to when I'm considering swimming among a bunch of different cardio options. "I'll try swimming on Monday since they're going to be painting the running track."

    Now, hilarious point: when I last tried to submit this, the Captcha mechanism asked me to choose the sandwiches among a set of photos. One of them was on a croissant! Would that qualify as a "sandwich" to Br.E. speakers?

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  114. And I managed to insert one of my least favorite pleonasms: "reason why." Something I always edit out of my real work....which I must be getting to!

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  115. David Crosbie,

    The encouragement to try things as well as activities was probably another parental tic.

    At least try cauliflower/Beethoven/falling out of a tree. You might discover you like it.

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  116. Rachel

    Sorry, I didn't mean that trying things was an an odd way of speaking. It's just that the grammar isn't comparable with try and.

    I always think of the Duke of Wellington called in by Queen Victoria to apply his military brain to the problem of sparrows infesting the building for the forthcoming Great Exhibition. The birds had flocked inside and found that they liked it there. And all the standard ways of shooing off birds would have shattered the glass.

    The Duke's reply:

    "Try sparrow-hawks Ma'am.'

    Try and is grammatically closer to try to do it while try cauliflower is closer to try doing it.

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  117. Dick Hartzell

    In the U.S. we say only that something was a good value (or, alternatively, a good buy).

    As I said before we never say a good value. We do say a good buy, but we use it differently form good value for money.

    Personally I would normally restrict a good buy referring to something I actually bought. At the very least it would be something I was seriously thinking about buying.

    A good buy is an advantageous purchase. It could simply be cheap. It could be something that will actually save money in the long run.

    If I say that something is good value for money, I'm usually being defensive. It implies that the object is not actually cheap, but of a higher quality than its price suggests.

    Good value (again no a!) ostensibly means the same thing — provided, of course, that the context clearly implies monetary value. However, it doesn't (Well, not for me) carry the the connotations of 'despite seeming rather expensive'.

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  118. Christian

    one of my least favorite pleonasms: "reason why."

    I can't for the life of me understand why you call this a pleonasm. It's one of a rich choice of prepositions and conjunctions listed by the OED.

    III. A cause, ground, or motive.
    10.
    A fact or circumstance forming, or alleged as forming, a motive sufficient to lead a person to adopt or reject some course of action or belief, esp. one stated as such. Also as a mass noun: grounds, motivation, or justification. With why, that, †wherefore; for, †of, or infinitive.

    The earliest quoted example of reason why is from 1533. The most recent (2000) is from the New York Review of Books, so you can't dismiss it as British English. The earliest (and only) quoted use of reason that is by Kipling in 1901.

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  119. I (American) do not say "tuna fish" but in my mind there is a distinction between "tuna," which is what you get raw or seared in restaurants, and "tuna fish," which is the beige stuff that comes in cans. But I may be entirely alone in this.

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  120. Dick

    At the very least it would be something I was seriously thinking about buying.

    Sorry that was a hint at an argument that I should have made explicitly.

    I can say

    Yes, It's good value for money but I'm completely out of cash.
    or
    Yes, It's good value for money, but you couldn't pay me to take it off you.

    But I wouldn't use a good buy in either context.

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  121. And I suspect that if you were more confident of the possibility you might say 'I'll go and have a swim on Monday'.
    Indeed I would! Or possibly "I'll go swimming on Monday", so that's not quite such a good example. Better is, say, if someone tells you something is mildly wrong in another room, and you are busy so you say "I'll try and have a look later", but if you're sure of being able to do it, you say "I'll go and have a look in a bit" or whatever.

    Meanwhile, "Value for money" is a perfectly good expression in BrE with no hint of pleonasm about it. In France it is even more torturous, as they say "un bon rapport qualité/prix" (="A good ratio between quality and price"), quite unironically.....

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  122. Lynne

    Another reason why the categorisation of chocolate* is significant for humans derives from the fact that humans are essentially and uniquely a ‘languaging’ species. ...

    No, it won't do. Your paraphrase leaves out concepts that occurred to the writer as pertinent. For your editing to be valid, it must rest on a judgement that the concepts were ill-conceived.

    I can think of contexts where the categorisation of chocolate could mean something over and above chocolate.

    • One that springs to mind is dark/plain vs milk vs white.
    • Another is by percentages of cocoa solids.
    • The difference between British and European chocolate can be so stark that there was a serious attempt within the Brussels bureaucracy to classify Cadbury's Dairy Milk and the lie as not chocolate.
    • Now that Kraft has taken over Cadbury's, chocolate of the category American has been introduced into some products, to howls of protest.

    If none of the categorisations were relevant, the writer wasn't using unnecessary words; your criticism was of an unnecessary concept.

    This is the sort of thing that happens when the writer starts composing a sentence in which categorisation was relevant, but then decides on a different argument without striking out the now irrelevant qualification.

    You weren't criticising the language: you were criticising the thought; you identified categorisation as muddled thinking.

    Another concept which could mean something is the reason ... derives from the fact that .... But it's hard to see how this could be the case. Normally, facts like that are the reason, There isn't a normally mediating process from (1) fact through (2) some other abstract state to (3) reason.

    Your edited version introduces the concept of relevant, which may well be what the writer should have meant. But they were trying to express something different: something like necessary result.

    Humans as a 'languaging' species removes a couple of concepts that the writer felt some need to express. By omitting essentially you allow for the possibility that 'languagingness' is an incidental property of humans. By omitting uniquely you allow for the possibility of the species possessing languaging ness.

    OK, I'm perfectly prepared to accept that all you criticism were valid. But they were criticism of thought, of the deployment of concepts that were unnecessary or unimportant. The writing ws not so much wordy as 'thoughty'.

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  123. Dr Thomason,

    You are not alone. Among the U.S.-living people that I've asked about a potential tuna/tuna fish conceptual distinction (there have been many; it's the sort of thing that passes for scintillating party banter coming from me) have agreed with you.

    –AiNJ

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  124. David: What's missing from the context here is that this was part of an 80K thesis, and so the concept had already been introduced and was in danger of being run into the ground. If a bit of content went, it wasn't content I thought it needed. In my mind, these are criticisms of how a particular thought was expressed--that the thought that the writer was getting at (which I was pretty familiar with by this time) was being led all over the place by verbiage.


    For others, on tuna/tuna fish: I think a lot of Americans make a distinction between 'tuna' on the line and 'tuna fish' in a can or on a sandwich (usually mixed with mayonnaise). But what strikes British folk is that to them, the stuff in the tin is still 'tuna'. (And, well, it is, isn't it?)

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  125. To me, "tuna fish"is limited to "tuna fish sandwiches." Without bread, it's "tuna salad." Take "tuna salad," slap it between two slices of bread, presto it's a "tuna fish sandwich." On a bed of lettuce, it's "tuna salad on a bed of lettuce." What a missed opportunity for a pleonasm -- "tuna salad salad."

    Sorry Charlie!

    SE US

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  126. Lynne, from my perspective as a (retired) language teacher the fault in writing like that is a failure to grasp how explicit one should be for optimum communication at any given time.

    So I still say that it suffered not from too many words but from too many details — details that you or any other reader could well do without.

    On the other tack, I used to make a distinction between tuna and tuna fish that's the opposite of the one you report.

    When I was a little boy, tinned tuna was an inferior substitute for tinned salmon. I still find it strange that tuna is considered a delicacy. Many years later I saw documentary footage of tuna harvest, and began to think of those big beasts as tuna fish.

    Linking back with my first point tuna fish is simply more specific than tuna. That extra detail contained in the word fish may not be particularly useful for effective communication. However, it's not the irritating overload of needlessly explicit detail that the unfortunate writer crammed into that thesis.

    From what you and Diane say, I suspect that what keeps tuna fish in the dialect is the pleasing rhythm of tuna fish sandwich.

    Similarly in our dialect beetroot creates rhythms that beet would kill stone dead. (Itself a rhythmic improvement on kill.)

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  127. @David Crosbie, I had to get back to the office to read my Garner's (Modern American Usage, 3rd Ed.), whereupon I discover that as a general matter he agrees with...you(!).

    reason why; reason that. Both forms are correct. It's an unfortunate superstition that reason why is an objectionable redundancy. True, it is mildly redundant (as are time when and place where), but it has long been idiomatic.

    In this case, the clause already had a "that" in it -- "I can't think of any reason why that would change." I suspect I could have got[ten] away with just one "that": "I can't think of any reason that would change."

    Garner saves his opprobrium for a slightly different phrase, which I suspect was rolling around in my subconscious: "The reason is because..." Apparently the disapproval goes back at least to Fowler. But Garner also tags it as at Stage 4 out of 5 on his "language-change index," meaning it's "ubiquitous but..." ("Reason why" gets a clean Stage 5, "fully accepted.")

    The language-change index is one of the reasons I love Garner; it suggests a humility to counterbalance his prescriptivism.

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  128. And on "tuna" versus "tunafish" -- I agree with the esteemed Lynne. In a post-sushi world, tuna is the lovely, meaty fish that's properly served after having been cooked as little as possible (perhaps given a black-sesame crust and grilled briefly over -- not under -- high heat). Tunafish is the crumbly, chewy beige material that, when mixed with mayo, becomes a particularly malodorous form of spackle -- and the single most compelling argument against open-plan offices.

    ETA: Now Captcha wants me to choose among cakes.

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  129. Christian

    Garner and Fowler are — literally — closed books to me. Until recently I never heard a good word for Fowler from people I respected. Garner I've never even heard of. Struck and White to me, and I suspect to most Brits, is known only for some pig-ignorant pronouncements on grammar. I was amazed to read Stephen Pinker extolling bits of Strunk and White, so I was semi-prepared to see it praised by Lynne.

    In Britain, prescriptive grammar and prescriptive word-usage is largely a matter of shibboleths.

    For a few professional non-literary writers, the shibboleths identify those who do and don't worship the formal prose style of the nineteenth century — imbuing it with moral qualities of economy, honesty and logic.

    For too many Brits, the shibboleths are markers of social class — masquerading as a divide between educated and uneducated, There's a public appetite for any old nonsense that makes people feel less insecure.

    The only usage guide I ever consult is the Cambridge guide by Pam Peters, who explains differences between Australian, British and American practices. And if ever she makes a judgement, she backs it up with evidence.

    I recently studied a chapter of Fowler's in depth. It's his elaborate treatment of shall and will. I found it a strange mixture of keen insight and blind attachment to the familiar. I'll never bring myself to read Strunk and White or your Garner chap, but I was impressed by Pinker's attempt to extract the good bit from that tradition. Maybe I'll buy the paperback, and maybe even use it.

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  130. Was reading old post on hamburgers and hot dogs, and beef burger was mentioned. Lynne, you said it seemed redundant. Would that be another example here? (I know, another BrE example though lol)

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  131. It certainly feels that way to Americans because we assume 'burger' = beef. But it's just an assumption, and we have turkey burgers, which indicates that 'beef' isn't part of the meaning of 'burger', it's an assumption we make when we hear 'burger' alone.

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  132. True, in U.S. It IS beef unless otherwise stated.

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  133. "'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
    Was there a man dismay'd ?
    Not tho' the soldier knew
    Some one had blunder'd:
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do & die,
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred."

    As Nancy Mitford put it "Don't tell Alfred"

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  134. Christian - to punctuate Mr., Mrs. and so on is the equivalent of a pleonasm on this side of the Atlantic! We are taught that if the abbreviation includes the final letter of the word, a full stop (AmE period) is not required.
    We also omit them from abbreviations that a century ago would have been written R.A.F., M.O.T., N.A.T.O. if these organisations had existed then of course.

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  135. One pleonasm that may be particularly British, although I may be wrong on that (do let me know!) is when people say things like "What he particularly disliked was rhubarb" or "what she liked was when he made a fool of himself." I think that may be as British a construction as the use of "If I would have" is American.

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  136. Those are called 'wh-clefts' (by people like me) and they're general English.

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  137. An alternative term is pseudo-cleft sentences.

    Unhelpful, but agreeably quaint.

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  138. As a BrEnglish speaker in my mid sixties, whatever the position might have been 250 years ago, 'go see' 'go do' etc rather than 'go and see', 'go and do' is ungrammatical. I'm fairly sure that if one had written it as a child, it would have come back with a red line under it and probably some red exclamation marks. Likewise one could not have written 'I went looked in the cupboard' rather than 'I went and looked in the cupboard'.

    'Hosepipe is not a pleonasm. Although we don't use 'hose' that way much, a 'hose ban' would be an incongruous way of saying it was forbidden for women to wear nylons.

    I agree with all those who detest 'station stop'. It's pretentious, like 'at this moment in time' for 'now'. Likewise 'horse riding' and 'horseback riding'.

    Another irritating pleonasm that that become prevalent is 'train station'. A station is a railway station unless you attach another adjective to it, such as 'bus'.

    As burgers aren't indigenous here, but have become popular, most of us probably assume that a hamburger is made of pork, a beef burger of beef, a turkey burger of turkey etc.

    The argument that in 'yesterday I baked a cake' the 'ed' is redundant, is nonsense. It's necessary for concordance.

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  139. Dru

    The argument that in 'yesterday I baked a cake' the 'ed' is redundant, is nonsense. It's necessary for concordance.

    But surely concordance is a form of redundancy?

    Redundancy is good. And so-called pleonasms are at worst neutral. Station stop and Train station are irritating because they're not what we've ever said, you and I. Allegations of redundancy and pleonasm are beside the point.

    whatever the position might have been 250 years ago, 'go see' 'go do' etc rather than 'go and see', 'go and do' is ungrammatical.

    Constructions like go see are described by the OED as Now colloq. and U.S.. It was mainstream more recently that 250 years ago. Quoted British sources include Galsworthy (1929), Encounter (1968) and a British novelist called Anthony Glyn (1969). More colloquially, Go [EXPLETIVE] yourself!! is pretty standard, as is the derived noun go-getter.

    Nearer to that figure of 250 years, Jane Austen wrote in a letter Your Streatham & my Bookham may go hang. (1813)

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  140. Yes, my point re the -ed in 'yesterday I baked a cake' was that languages have a lot of redundancy. There was no claim there that you can in English say 'Yesterday I bake a cake'. Concordance is nothing but redundancy built into the system. It's the (to use a BrEism) belt-and-braces of language structure.

    A

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  141. I really dislike pre-prepared. And generally prefixing anything with "pre" when it doesn't make sense to prefix with "post": like "planned" for example.

    And constructions like "8am in the morning".

    In general, though, I'm a fan of redundancy. It reduces error rates.

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  142. Another phrase we use in America that I think is a pleonasm, is "a wee little boy". Scottish and northern Irish people would just say "a wee boy", because "wee" means little.

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  143. As burgers aren't indigenous here, but have become popular, most of us probably assume that a hamburger is made of pork, a beef burger of beef, a turkey burger of turkey etc.

    I (CdnE) would never assume that a hamburger is made of pork, in fact I've almost never seen such a thing, the closest being patties made of mixed beef & pork.

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  144. How about "taxicab"? Surely either taxi or cab is enough.

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  145. Surely "taxicab" is the original word, and "taxi" and "cab" merely different ways of abbreviating it? No pleonasm there.

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  146. I'm all for neoplasms: they remove ambiguity - redundancy is required to create emotional certainty, it can be used to set a context (yeah, yeah, yeah should be banned!) and sometimes the repetition serves as emphasis.

    We should be talking about the people who get needlessly upset at their use.
    Linguists seem to agree that we each possess three or more registers – sets of language forms and vocabulary that we use in various stations – examples are family and friends, polite and professional.

    The correction of another person's language, in all ways intelligible except for some minor 'transgression' in the ears of a listener, is peculiarly English. IMO these acts of enforcements are minor acts of bullying.

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  147. One British phrase that always sounds pleonastic to my American ears is "combine harvester". We say "combine" in America.

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  148. Paul D

    That's a very strange idea of a pleonasm. Combine could mean all sorts of things without the explanatory harvester.

    Yes, if you're talking about farming then we know you mean a harvester. But that doesn't make the full phrase a pleonasm.

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  149. I guess I'm not understanding the meaning of pleonasm very well. But "combine harvester" is unnecessary at least. If Americans can get by just saying "combine" (with 1st syllable stress, unlike the verb), then British people could too. Not that I care either way.

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  150. Paul D

    If somebody said to me 'I'm having a discussion about a combine', and If I did not know the speaker to be involved in agriculture, then I simply wouldn't be sure what he or she was talking about.

    Now if somebody said 'an agricultural combine harvester' or 'a mechanical combine harvester', then I would see it as pleonastic — not that I think it's necessarily a bad thing.

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  151. Philip C James: "Though no punishment is sufficiently harsh for those who use "very unique"..."

    One of my least favorite peeves.

    Everything is unique. Each thing is in a different place, its atoms are not arranged in precisely the same way as anything else, it is slightly heavier or lighter, it has more or less wear, whatever. No thing is precisely the same as any other thing.

    So, let us assume that we have several special-snowflake horses (all unique, remember), but one of them stands 19 hands. Among those several unique horses, surely that giant of equine kind is more unique in some sense than the others. If you were to have a collection of (unique) 19-hand horses, one of which was also an albino, surely that would, in some sense, be still more unique. One might reasonably refer to it as, say, "very unique".

    "Unique" is either useless (as applying to everything, everywhere) or it must reasonably admit of modification. (See also "perfect", but "backwards and in high heels", so to say.)

    The discussion of modifying absolutes in the* MWDEU is also useful, as are many of the articles in that excellent book.

    Next "riding" vs. "horseback riding":

    To my AmE ears, "riding" requires modification for clarity. If I were asked to "go for a ride", that might mean "in an airplane", "in a car", "on a bicycle", or "on a horse" among many other modalities of transport.

    If I were asked to "go riding", I would assume bicycles would be involved unless I had some reason to believe my interlocutor owned horses (which would still require clarification for me). My son might include the possibility of using a snowboard, since we live near the mountains, or a skateboard, but those would not come to my mind unbidden.

    As to the difference between "horse riding" (or "riding a horse") and "horseback riding", I think the latter is a frozen idiom, at least in AmE. FWIW, I suspect the term came from "going to (N) on horseback" as opposed to "going to (N) in a carriage", but "horseback riding" is definitely idiom now.

    I should perhaps note that I learned to ride in my early teens, my wife has owned horses, my uncle was a large-animal vet and rodeo cowboy, and my cousin is a past rodeo champion. I'm not unaware of, or unused to, horses.


    * For me, though Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage would not take a definite article, the abbreviation calls out for one, I think. I'm not sure why.

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  152. The one thing that I (Belgian, degree in English language from a UK university, BrE) find rather curious is the fact that "to go and {verb}" is considered a pleonastic BrE construction by a US audience. In my experience, speakers of AmE tend to continually interlard their speech with the even more elaborate "to go AHEAD and {verb}", e.g. someone working at an event might say "Why don't you go ahead and pay your tickets at the counter" as a polite instruction. Admittedly, I have most frequent interaction with Americans from the NE US (Midwest, NY, New England), so it may just be a regionalism, but I cannot help but to suppress a little snigger whenever I hear this expression being used, as it sounds so unnatural to my BrE-trained ears.

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  153. I've just stumbled on some hard evidence on the use of try and in the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English.

    In their four data banks, there's a clear imbalance
    FICTION
    try to 400 times per million words
    try and less than 20 times per million words

    NEWS and ACADEMIC
    try and less than ten times per million words

    CONVERSATION
    try to 200 times per million words
    try and 80 times per million words

    Often try and occurs in an infinitive to try and

    NEWS and ACADEMIC
    practically all uses are to try and

    CONVERSATION
    45% of uses are to try and

    Yes, there is a dialect imbalance but try and is found in AmE, for example

    FICTION
    BrE c20 times per million words
    AmE c2 per million

    When used in FICTION it typically appears in the speech of fictional characters.

    When used NEWS and ACADEMIC it's almost always to avoid a sequence of t0-clauses. For example:

    He had practiced putting on his kitchen floor at home during the winter to try and prepare himself for the greens. (NEWS)

    It follows that any teacher persuaded to adopt the innovation must be willing and able to explore modifications to his repertoire in order to try and achieve the hoped-for improvement inches pupils' understanding. (ACADEMIC)

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)