When you write scavenger hunts and treasure hunts, filled with tricky, humorous clues and exacting directions, language becomes a minefield. Every word counts. By which we don’t mean that the words are counting up a series of numbers. Any word can be misinterpreted. Even simply typing turn left instead of turn right can send a team off in the wrong direction for blocks—and they show up at the finish line with a low score and high dudgeon. (That’s another issue: should you risk a less-common word?)
When you pay such close attention to written words, you become more aware of redundancy. In ordinary speech, our brains seem to have a natural inclination to use redundancy to help make a point clear or to add emphasis. But on the page or small screen, redundancy is unnecessary and often sloppy. You don’t need to hammer down your points with a series of repeated blows over and over until the reader throws in the white towel of surrender. See what we mean?
Here are some common redundant phrases on our black list, collected while following the media or watching TV. Some are worse than others. Did we need to say “than others”? Doesn’t “worse” already imply a comparison with others? Let the debates begin!
Combine these together
These three words are often combined together on cooking shows.
This qualifies for the “Nails Dragged Across the Blackboard” Award. Bonuses are always something added.
Period of time
You’re probably going to say this one is harmless. But think about it: in just about every instance you’d use this, you could simply use period or time alone. Worse, the phrase is often modifying verbs such as change and happen that can’t do anything other than take place over a period of time. The situation grew worse over a period of time is like saying The man walked over a length of distance. Often period of time is a junk food phrase tossed in because the writer or speaker won’t go through the trouble to be more specific. Is it a period of centuries? Days? Minutes? How about trying an estimate? The writer should take a period of time to avoid that phrase.
Here’s a test to determine whether a phrase is redundant: change one of the words to its opposite. For example, are you urging someone to plan ahead so they don’t plan behind? It’s impossible not to plan ahead—that’s the nature of planning. But yeah, yeah, OK, we get it: when you use this, you’re urging someone not to wait until you are too close to the event you should be planning for. So maybe this phrase skates by with a C+ grade.
As opposed to rise down.
Another favorite of cooking shows. Can you reduce up? No. While we’re throwing dough at chefs, here’s another food faux pas: shrimp scampi. Scampi are large shrimp.
End result, final result
You can make a fair case that when you use this phrase you want to emphasize the last step of a process. Even so, wouldn’t everyone understand result on its own?
Ew. Why? OK, nitpickers: you could have a subtraction total. But the fact that this clarifying phrase doesn’t exist should indicate we don’t need sum total. And that’s our final conclusion on this…oh, wait…
If you aspire to dress up your vocabulary with whence, be careful you’re not like a man in a track suit who dons a stovepipe hat. Step away from the five-star SAT words, sir. Whence means from which or from where, so from whence is the equivalent of saying from from which. It’s a bit like saying because therefore.
As in something grew progressively worse. OK, you can nitpick and state that something can change in a staccato or punctuated manner, as opposed to a steady increase. But are most people who say grew progressively worse really intending that? No, they are just dragging in progressively to make the situation sound more dire. And the use of this phrase is growing progressively worse. Ouch.
Speaks for itself, weakly.
Nine times out of ten, started would work on its own. Or maybe ten out of ten. Another chronological atrocity: past history.
Beloved by conductors, especially in the New York area. And when you get there, don’t forget your personal belongings. Which perhaps is a useful expression if an impersonal belonging is something you are about to steal from another passenger.
Variety of different [something]
We’ve shown you a variety of redundant phrases. They are all different. That’s the nature of a variety. We hope you’ve enjoyed this and haven’t instead experienced a variety of different irritations. We just like having fun with words, and use as few as possible to create fun experiences on our scavenger hunts.
Bret Watson is the founder and CEO of Watson Adventures. He previously spent many years as a writer and editor at such publications as Entertainment Weekly.