word packages

Word Packages—Cliches’ Ugly Cousin

Advance notice/planning/reservations/warning. Notices, planning, reservations, and warnings are all, by their nature, actions that occur before some event, so qualifying such terms with advance is superfluous.

All intents and purposes. One or the other suffices; “to all intents.”

As to whether. Whether.

Basically is that it is almost always unnecessary.

Basis. More often than not, a reliable indicator of wordiness, as here: “Det. Chief Supt. Peter Topping … said he would review the search on a day-to-day basis.” Why not make it “would review the search daily” and save five words?

Be (with a participle). Almost always a wordy way of getting your point across, as here: “He will be joining the board of directors in March.” Quicker to say, “He will join the board of directors in March.”

Came at a time when. When provides the necessary temporal reference to the action of coming.

Cannot help but is an increasingly common construction, and perhaps now may be said to carry the weight of idiom, but it is also worth noting that it is both unnecessarily wordy and a little irregular. “You cannot help but notice what a bad name deregulation has with voters” would be better (or at least more conventionally) phrased as either “You cannot help notice . . .” or “You cannot but notice . . .”

Careful scrutiny is redundant, as scrutiny is a close or minute examination.

Close proximity is inescapably tautological. Make it “near” or “close to.”

Destroy is an incomparable*—almost. If a house is consumed by fire, it is enough to say that it was destroyed, not that it was “completely destroyed” or “totally destroyed.” However, and illogical as it may seem, it is all right to speak of a house that has been partly destroyed. There is simply no other way of putting it without resorting to more circuitous descriptions. That is perhaps absurd and inconsistent, but ever thus was English.

*Incomparables are words with absolute parameters, meaning their definitions preclude modification, though verbal habit leads many writers to make this error. Think. Something is complete or it’s not, destroyed or it’s not, unique or it’s not. How can you drop half a topic? And yet, that’s what the valedictorian character decided she would do in These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf.

Difficult dilemma. A dilemma is by nature difficult.

During the course of. During means “in or throughout the duration of”.

Each and every is hopelessly tautological. Choose one or the other.

End result. A result is something that occurs at the end. 

Equally as is always wrong; a thing is equally good, not equally as good.

Estimated at about, as in “The crowd was estimated at about 50,000,” is wrong. Because estimated contains the idea of an approximation, about is superfluous. Delete it.

False pretense. A pretense is a deception.

Far and few between. Don’t you mean rare?

Filled to capacity. Something filled is done so to capacity.

Final outcome. An outcome is a result and is therefore intrinsically final.

Foreign imports. Imports are products that originate in another country.

Foreseeable future. Is any future foreseeable? If so, can you define a timeframe?

Future plans. If a person makes plans, it would follow that they are for the future.

Last but not least is still last.

General consensus. Any consensus must be general. Equally to be avoided is “consensus of opinion.”

In terms of. Weightless padding, preamble unnecessary.

In the last analysis. Same as above.

Level, mark. These are often pointlessly employed. “Stock prices once again fell below the 12,000 level” says no more than “… fell below 12,000.”

Minute detail. The two words not only are tautological, but also have a kind of deadening effect on any passage in which they appear, as here: “Samples of the shards were brought back to the college, where they were studied in minute detail.” Why not just say “Samples of the shards were brought back to the college for study”? One can normally assume that any objects being subjected to study will be examined closely.

Needless to say. They why say it? 

Old adage. An adage is by definition old.

One and the same. The same.

One of the most. Get to and make your point without the empty hype.

Originally is often needlessly inserted into sentences where it conveys no additional information, as here: “The plans were originally drawn up as long ago as 1972” (Observer).

Overly. Making over into overly is a little like turning soon into soonly. Adding -ly does nothing for over that it could not already do.

Past. Often a space waster, as in this example: “Davis said the dry conditions had been a recurrent problem for the past thirty years.” In this sentence, and in countless others like it, “the past” could be deleted without any loss of sense. Equally tautological and to be avoided are such expressions as past records, past history, past experience, past achievements, and past precedents.

Position. Often a pointer to verbosity. “They now find themselves in a position where they have to make a choice” would be immeasurably better as “They now have to make a choice.”

Postpone until later. To postpone is to delay. Later is superfluous.

Precautionary measure is a common phrase, but it can nearly always be shortened simply to precaution.

Present, presently. Like current and currently, these two often appear needlessly in sentences, as here: “A new factory, which is presently under construction in Manchester, will add to capacity.” The sentence says as much without presently as with it.

Protest against. To protest is to communicate opposition. Against is redundant.

Revert back. Something that reverts returns to an earlier state. Back is superfluous.

Routine habits. Take care not to write of someone’s “customary habits” or “usual habits” and the like. Habits are always customary and always usual. 

So as to. The first two words can generally be deleted without loss, as they might have been here: “The rest of the crowd stuffed hot dogs into their faces so as to avoid being drawn into the discussion.”

Still remains. Something that remains is still in place.

Suddenly exploded. An explosion is an immediate event. It cannot be any more sudden than it is.

The fact is… the truth is. Again, just go straight to the point.

Thinking to oneself, as in “I thought to myself: ‘We’re lost,’ “ is always tautological; there is no one else to whom one can think. Delete “to myself.” Similarly vacuous is “in my mind” in constructions like “I could picture in my mind where the offices had been.”

Time often has a curious magnetic effect, attracting extra words to sentences, as in: “The property was occupied for a short length of time.” Make it “for a short time.” Occasionally, time itself is superfluous, as in constructions of this sort: “The report will be available in two weeks’ time.” Time adds nothing to the sentence but wordiness. 

Time, at this moment in. Unless you are striving for an air of linguistic ineptitude, never use this expression. Say “now.”

Together with, along with. With in both expressions is a preposition, not a conjunction, and therefore does not govern the verb. This sentence is wrong: “They said the man, a motor mechanic, together with a 22-year-old arrested a day earlier, were being questioned” (London Times). Make it “was being questioned.”

Total. Three points to note:
Total is redundant and should be deleted when what it is qualifying already contains the idea of a totality, as here: “[They] risk total annihilation at the hands of the massive Israeli forces now poised to strike at the gates of the city” (Washington Post). 

The expression a total of, though common, is also generally superfluous: “County officials said a total of 84 prisoners were housed in six cells” (New York Times). Make it “officials said 84 prisoners.” An exception is at the start of sentences when it is desirable to avoid spelling out a large number, as in “A total of 2,112 sailors were aboard” instead of “Two thousand one hundred and twelve sailors were aboard.”

“A total of 45 weeks was spent on the study” (London Times) is wrong. As with “a number of “ and “the number of,” the rule is to make it “the total of … was,” but “a total of … were.”

To the tune of. A hackneyed circumlocution. “The company is being subsidized to the tune of $500 million a year” would be more succinct as “The company receives a subsidy of $500 million a year.”

True facts is always either redundant or wrong. All facts are true. Things that are not true are not facts.

Unexpected surprise. No surprise is expected.

Unique. When something is unique, it’s the only one of its kind. Unique is an absolute quality. Something described as unique is without equal or twin—it is, in fact, incomparable. Degrees of uniqueness, therefore, do not exist. Something is either unique or it isn’t. Like pregnant or dead, a state of slightly, very, quite, a bit, or pretty defies the realm of possibility.

Weather conditions is redundant, as in “Freezing weather conditions will continue for the rest of the week.” Delete conditions. Similarly tiresome is the weather forecasters’ fondness for “activity,” as in “thunderstorm activity over the plains states.”

Whether or not. The second two words should be dropped when whether is equivalent to if, as in “It is not yet known whether or not persons who become reinfected can spread the virus to others.” Or not is necessary, however, when what is being stressed is an alternative: “I intend to go whether or not you like it.”

Written down. Something written has been taken down. Down is superfluous.

Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist