Thursday, March 22, 2012

Redundant nouns

One popular kind of redundancy is to unnecessarily add a generic noun after a specific noun. Here are three examples I’ve recently seen or heard:

An advertisement mentioned a “cruise experience.”
(A cruise is an experience; just say “cruise.”)

A retail store advertised a “clearance event.”
(A clearance is an event; just say “clearance.”)

A professor referred to a colleague’s “Ph.D. degree.”
(A Ph.D. is a degree; just say “Ph.D.”)

Some writers feel that the addition of a generic noun strengthens a specific noun; in fact, it usually weakens the specific noun. The reader (or hearer) may become suspicious of why the generic noun is there at all. And he has reason to be suspicious; for example, consider the notorious phrase “cheese food.” Why would a food company call one of its products “cheese food” instead of “cheese”? Because it’s not cheese.

The Takeaway: If you notice that you have added a generic noun after a specific noun, ask yourself why you did it. If you can articulate your reason – for example, you added “helicopter” after “an Apache” because in the context the reader might incorrectly assume “an Apache” refers to a person, not a helicopter – keep the generic noun. If you cannot articulate your reason, delete.

See disclaimer.

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