Economy of Words

I retired from teaching in June, so now I’m living on a fixed income. I watch my expenses and ask myself need or want questions. For the most part, it is working. I have had to break some spending habits like buying magazines at the grocery store and adopt some others like checking the unit price of items. Living on a budget takes some getting used to.

Another change in my life is I spend more time listening to television, online presentations, and adult conversations. I’ve noticed a prevalent speech pattern: redundancy. Redundancy can be heard from the lips of respectable newscasters to my most intelligent friends. I would be hard pressed to pick which offense is most common.

Have you found yourself listening to a person describe how they collaborated together with someone on a project? Or maybe they were reflecting back on a youthful moment. Perhaps they were continuing on their journey for inner tranquility. Some are more blatant redundancies like big huge and tiny little. Some of us say them because these phrases are part of our everyday language. They sound right to our ears; we heard them growing up. Really. It is the honest truth.

I like the third and fourth definitions of redundancy from

3asuperfluous repetition ban act or instance of needless repetition

4the part of a message that can be eliminated without loss of essential information”

If you read the other definitions, you will see that being redundant can sometimes get you fired. At other times, it can save your life, say while on a NASA mission or after a brain injury. It is fantastic when there is built-in redundancy then. But when we are speaking, redundancy does not help us communicate more clearly. I find it is a waste of words and a missed opportunity to use even better vocabulary.

 One of my hobbies is writing poetry.  I spend a lot of time choosing the right word to express a sentiment or describe a scene. I like to be concise and precise in my verse which is why I look up words in the dictionary to be confident of their definitions. I discovered that I used words incorrectly in the past. For instance, I used ornery for years thinking it was more closely related to being playful when it has a difficult disposition aspect to it. (Merriam Webster says those from the Midwest use it in a more playful way.)

 Returning back to the subject, I thought about explaining the reasons why these phrases are redundant, but I don’t want you to think I am coming from a place of superiority. I became aware of redundancies because I was guilty of using my own. And also, who hasn’t used but still?

Thinking about my new financial situation made me wonder what would happen if we treated words like money.  What if we taxed redundant words? For every lower down or lift up spoken, a quarter goes into the education pot. For every true fact stated, a dollar goes to fund the environment. Hmmm…considering my philosophy of education, rather than being punitive, perhaps an incentive is called for. Dropping down from descend would get you a five percent tax refund! We could make economical use of words a major tax deduction.

Reducing redundancies shouldn’t be difficult. It’s like when you buy a new car and then start seeing that model everywhere you look. Once you are aware of redundancies, your ears will jar whenever they hear them. Most of the time, all you need do is delete one of the words from the phrase. If you mean something is quite large, then huge will work without any help from big. You don’t have to go searching for advanced vocabulary, although as a teacher, I’d love it if you did. I challenge you to start listening for redundancies and maybe try putting yourself on a word budget. Want to share your thoughts? Feel free to respond back to me.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s