Saying it twice (Mistake #33)

Repetition, tautology, pleonasm… whatever you want to call it, it’s basically saying something twice.

Easily done. Very common. I do it. While scouting for examples I came across one which I use all the time, and which I’ll include in this post. See whether you can spot it.

But first, some examples. And to demonstrate that we’re all in good company, here are some from some of the biggest media outlets.

Here’s the Mail, making the “last and final” repetition, the tautology so beloved of flight announcers at airports (“last and final call for flight BA241 …”).

And here they are again, talking about “lesbian women” – presumably to set this group apart from lesbian men or lesbian whippets.

Here’s the Guardian, speaking of a “deliberate attack” – lest we assume it was an accidental one.

The BBC here reports a Government “top priority” and here’s scourge of homeopaths Ben Goldacre speaking of, not false facts, but “true facts”.

And finally here’s the inimitable Sun, shouting loudly about “twenty different countries” – just in case there’s any chance you may be thinking twelve Spains, seven Canadas and a Papua New Guinea instead.

There are so many others, when you look into this, that they take on a kind of lyrical beauty: sum total, advance warning, former graduate, each and every, first conceived, personal friend, null and void, past experience…

Cheap price, too, would fall into this category, given that ‘cheap’ means ‘low-priced’ and “cheap price” is therefore “low-priced price” – making it a double mistake, bearing in mind Mistake No. 20.

So. Instead of saying “blue-coloured” – say “blue”. Instead of “my personal opinion” say “my opinion”. “Return” not “return back”. “Surrounded” not “surrounded on all sides”. “I saw it” not “I saw it with my own eyes”.

It’s not serious, all this. It won’t lose you a sale, or risk future work. A sub-editor will sort it out if it’s conspicuous – although as we’ve seen tautologies are easily missed.

But I think it’s good to be aware of them. It forces you to think of the meaning of the words you’re using a bit more deeply – which can only strengthen you as a writer. It’s a good exercise when editing an article to give it a read-through with repetition in mind. When you find one, rephrase or strike it out. The end result will be so much better.

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