One challenge to writing is avoiding pesky pleonasms. I can’t fault anyone for failing to recognize this odd term with Greek origins. But then who would use ever pleonasm in conversation anyway, right?
The definition makes it understandable: Using unnecessary, often repetitive words that are useless in making one’s point.
I’ve routinely edited these columns in search of pleonasms without realizing the process actually had a name. Being an Arkansas boy, I might just say, “them thar words jest plum ain’t needed.”
For example, I routinely comb my writing in search of the word “that.” Fact is, we can do without most “thats” in since it’s a filler word, which needlessly lengthens sentences. I need simply to say, “he said he was leaving” rather than “he said that he was leaving,” right? I’m less efficient when I write, “the suitcase that he brought aboard was too large.”
The same holds for the word “the,” which also can be scratched from many sentences without losing meaning.
What about “gnashing of teeth?” Can you gnash anything but teeth? Or consider “nape of the neck,” when one’s nape only exists on the neck.
How about “frozen tundra” when tundra is characterized by frozen subsoil? One of my favorites is “head honcho.” Why not choose one that best fits?
And as for using “false pretenses” to describe one’s actions or motives, is there such thing as an honest pretense?
Anyone recall that scene from the 1992 film A River Runs Through It, when actor Brad Pitt’s screen father, a scholarly minister, repeatedly tells his son to keep cutting in half the essay he’d proudly completed until it could no longer be trimmed without sacrificing context? That strikes me as a lesson in Pitt Pleonasmings.
You get the idea. The point is we can all benefit from recognizing when we use 23 words to describe something when seven is plenty to convey the point.
Another example: “They said that they would hop in the car and drive down the street to find their furry dog that had become lost.”
Why not: “They drove to find their lost dog.”
Looky here now, valued readers, I’m far from being an English teacher. So take this weekend tutorial with a grain of salt, especially knowing I’m always catching myself (often failing) to find my unintended pleonasms. Oops, see I did it again. No one intentionally creates pleonasms unless they’re trying to amplify a point, right?
I read the following sentence in a local daily newspaper last week: “After descending down a small hill, the path crosses a live branch that has a small brook of water flowing.”
As an editor, I’d take this reporter aside and gently explain that “down” always means “descending” and “brooks” always are “flowing,” which is why they are brooks. I’d show them how to trim their sentence by two-thirds and lose not a whit of meaning: “After descending, the path crosses a brook.”
You need not practice journalism for a living to hopefully gain something from this little unsolicited discourse that I just wrote about that makes your own ability to communicate in writing words needlessly lengthier than that process needs to be.
OK, enough, Mike. Give it a rest! The blather that you are spouting is getting superfluously redundant. Can ya please go back to focusing on speed traps, hog factories and corrupt politicians?
Hooray for seniors
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Frank Conner of Harrison’s astounding golf shot on the par-four seventh hole at the Harrison Country Club the other day. The 68-year-old retiree pulled out his three wood and sent the dimpled ball soaring toward the red flag 284 yards in the distance. It finally stopped rolling five yards past the green.
How in the name of our golden years is it possible a relatively slender a man of his advancing age (well, OK, I am three years his senior) on a calm day conjures such supernatural ability? Yes, that is an ever-so-slight shade of green you detect in my cheeks.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at email@example.com.