I can’t be the only one who’s noticed the shoddy editing not only in newspapers and magazines, but also in books — even in textbooks and best-sellers. Let’s make that especially in best-sellers.
Some authors are headed for best-sellerdom no matter how they write, so their publishers apparently give editing a short shrift. They’ll make money anyway.
Typos abound in books, even those from large and reputable publishing houses. So do errors in grammar, structure, punctuation and usage.
One mega-seller author wrote, for example, that a character “cavorted” in her deck chair. What can we make of a “wordsmith” who doesn’t know that you must at least get out of your chair to cavort?
And, even if the professional writer doesn’t know, shouldn’t the professional editor? It’s not unreasonable to expect wordsmiths to know their way around the world of words — after all, the word is their only tool.
Grammar and structure problems can be complex and challenging, but what excuses the gross redundancies littering many books?
How much skill does it take to know better than to write “free gift”? Characters in novels “shrug their shoulders” or “nod their heads,” when the least discerning wordsmith knows there’s nothing else to shrug or nod.
I recently read of “continuous, nonstop terrorist threats.” But “continuous” means “nonstop” — does saying it twice make the threats any more ceaseless?
Such redundancy is as blind to what words mean as “completely decapitated” or “totally demolished.”
Most of us commit redundancies in speech and should be forgiven.
But writing offers a wonderful luxury: We can review and rewrite — endlessly, if we like — before dusting our hands and declaring the work as proficient as our talents will allow.
In editing, writers commune with themselves, and the questions involving redundancies are basic: Hmm, added bonus, eh? Isn’t a bonus always additional and therefore always “added”? And what’s with “12 noon” and “12 midnight” and “10 a.m. in the morning”? Shouldn’t that be noon, midnight, 10 a.m.?
It’s easy to spot redundancies such as end result, sum total, true fact, basic fundamental, consensus of opinion, potential promise, exact same, repeat again, personal friend, round in shape, blue in color, past experience, refer back to, advance warning. And a bit of thoughtful editing unearths subtler gaffes — “foreign imports,” say, instead of imports. (All imports are foreign.) Or “hot-water heater” instead of water heater. (Why heat it if it’s already hot?) Or “foot pedal” for pedal. (Pedals are for the feet.)
Some redundancies are overlooked because they’ve sneaked into the vernacular. “PIN number,” for example. “PIN” means personal identification number, so “PIN number” means “personal identification number number.” Ditto “ATM machine,” which means “automatic teller machine machine.” Ditto “HIV virus,” which means “human immunodeficiency virus virus.”
A holder of a doctoral degree referred to it as a “doctorate degree,” a redundancy because a doctorate is a degree. (His doctorate wasn’t in English.)
The word new is a frequent companion of redundancy.
The military refers to “new recruits,” but aren’t they all? When they’re no longer new, aren’t they also no longer recruits?
Sportscasters refer to “setting a new record,” but all records are new. Could we set an old record?
A CEO said his company had come up with a number of “new innovations” and “new initiatives.” What would it be like to come up with old innovations and initiatives?
Many redundancies are as illogical as they are repetitive.
An acquaintance said, for example, that she hoped to get a “temporary loan.” But loans that aren’t temporary aren’t loans at all. They’re gifts.
Bet they’re not free gifts.
It’s not only redundant to unite words that have the same meaning, it’s also flabby and unrefined — and unnecessarily so in writing, where we have that rare chance to second-guess the way we express ourselves.
Paula LaRocque, former writing coach at The Dallas Morning News, is author of The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well and of Championship Writing, available at www.marionstreetpress.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.