Monday, July 2, 2012

Redundant nouns (2)

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

A website says, “In the modern world, wicker men are used for various events. The figure has been adopted for festivals as part of some neopagan-themed ceremonies, without the human sacrifice element.” (Just say “without human sacrifice.”)

A website promises to bring you “the up-to-date traffic situation.” (Just say “the up-to-date traffic.”)

And surely you’ve heard airline clerks refer to “the boarding process.” (Just say “boarding.”)

And you may have heard a real estate agent speak of “a price point.” (This is a pompous misuse of the term. Just say “a price.”)


Some writers feel that the addition of a generic noun strengthens a specific noun. In fact, it usually weakens the specific noun. The reader wonders why that useless noun was added. He may assume ignorance or stupidity. Worse, he may suspect deception, and with good reason; for example, consider the notorious phrase “cheese food.” Why would a food company call one of its own products “cheese food” instead of “cheese”? Because it’s not cheese. Probably the company cannot legally call it cheese but would like you to think that it really is 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 a good 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 a good reason, delete. Why create doubts about the soundness of your education or morals?

See disclaimer.


  1. Funny examples, but you prove your point.

  2. Another one, which has begun to creep into library publicity around here (Yale), is that the professor uses the library to work on his next "book project." Professors used to work simply on their next books. The addition of "project" makes it sound (to me at least) like those social studies projects I had to do in grade school. Love the "cheese food" example.