I advise speakers to, “Edit out the words that have no meaning.” Thought you would be interested in this article from Ragan Communications by Rob Reinalda. Rob and I obviously agree that “specificity builds credibility.” Thanks Rob for your good work! Your pain is adding to my education… Patricia Fripp
Writers, Purge These Redundancies!
Today’s ‘writing’ teems with superfluous words and phrases. With attention spans short and time limited, readers (and listeners) seek brevity and clarity. Deliver.
by Rob Reinalda
I commute. Not every day but a couple of mornings a week, I walk to the train station and catch the 7:50 (or occasionally the 8:20) and ride into Chicago. At the station I hear this announcement:
“Metra commuters, your attention, please. An inbound train to Chicago is now arriving in your station. For your safety, please stand behind the yellow line until the train has come to a complete stop before boarding the train.”
So, every morning that I don’t work from home, I cringe. Here’s why:
“Metra commuters, your attention, please. (So far, so good.)
“An inbound train to Chicago (As opposed to an inbound train from Chicago?)
“ … is now arriving (Gee, why not go all out and say it’s “in the process of” arriving? And I’m glad you announced it, because the lowered gates, the flashing lights, the clanging bells, and the enormous blue locomotive with the red-and-white-striped front lumbering toward us had us confused about what-all was happening.)
“ … in your station. (Why would we give a tinker’s damn about its arrival anywhere else?)
“For your safety, please stand behind the yellow line (Whose safety but mine/ours would this benefit? Still, it’s nice that they care.)
“ … until the train has come to a complete stop (As opposed to a partial stop? A slow roll? A feinted pause?)
“ … before boarding the train.” (This is actually good advice, because so many people try to board while the train is moving and the doors are shut. Never mind that this syntax might suggest the train would be boarding itself. It’s just too Max Escher for that hour.)
At the end of the trip, this cheerful reminder is offered:
“Please remember to take your tickets and personal belongings.” (I defy this message. I take only my impersonal belongings. I’m a rebel.)
A world of tautologies
Such overwrought announcements are not specific to Chicago, of course. A friend who lives in our nation’s capital wrote to me:“I have never been on an Amtrak train from New York to Washington and not heard the conductor announce Washington’s Union Station as the train’s ‘last and final stop.’”
Such iterations—the word “reiteration” is redundant—flood the vernacular. A couple of examples:
- Hot water heater (Why would hot water need heating?)
- Preheat the oven (No, just heat the oven, please.)
One more abomination from the kitchen is this heinous construction: “un-thaw” the turkey. What? That would mean to freeze it, no?Do you enter your PIN number at the ATM machine? Well, stop it. PIN stands for personal identification number. ATM stands for automated teller machine. The latter drives me especially nuts, because an automated teller is a machine. So, ATM machine is doubly redundant.
Here’s another: “Please RSVP.” Three-quarters of RSVP is s’il vous plait (French for “please”). Don’t sound so desperate; one “please” will suffice.
Rob Reinalda is Executive Editor at Ragan Communications. He spent 28 years as a writer and editor in newspapers, including stints at the New York Daily News and Chicago Tribune before joining Ragan in 2008. He is working on a stage musical version of “Fargo.” Follow him on Twitter @word_czar.
Ragan Communications is a great source of information for communicators. Their conferences include the Ragan Speechwriters Conference which I have been honored to keynote.
Patricia Fripp’s executive speech coaching clients include corporate leaders, celebrity speakers, well-known sports and media personalities, and sales teams. You can learn many of the public speaking secrets she teaches her executive speech coaching clients at Fripp events or through Fripp learning materials.
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