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Those Pesky Phrases

Jan 02, 2018 12:57PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By Dr. Henry Price
Writing Expert, Sam E. McCuen and Associates

Americans spend a lot of time and money on health care — as they properly should. Failure to do so can prove horribly expensive. We seem to forget, however, that not exercising the same care with our language can also be extremely costly — in lost clients, lost business, lost good will.

The English language has many little eccentricities where writers can stub their toes because they are unaware of the pitfalls. Here are some more of those words and phrases that fall into no particular category and can cause you embarrassment if you use them where you shouldn’t. Some of them are redundancies; some are just too long; some are just wrong.

consensus of opinion: This is a needless redundancy. Consensus is “of opinion.” It’s like the menu that proudly lists “roast beef au jus with gravy,” where the writer doesn’t know that “au jus” means “with gravy.”
despite the fact that: Use “although.”
due to the fact that: Use “because.”
during the period from: Use “from.”
for the purpose of: Use “for” or “to.”
argument/quarrel: The word “argument” implies a point of view or a presentation of that point of view. “Quarrel” doesn’t.
bad/badly: We say someone has a bad cold or that they were badly injured. Think about it. Most people would say they have never had a “good” cold or been “goodly” injured. Often, “bad” is one of those words that, when properly used, implies there is a “good” version of whatever is being modified. Use “severe” or “severely” in those instances.
very unique/quite unique/totally unique: “Unique” means one of a kind; there is no degree of uniqueness.
gas/gasoline: Except in slang, they’re not the same thing. There are some gasoline stations that also offer fast food. In that case, you can get both gasoline (in your tank) and gas (in your stomach) at the same place.

Several months ago, I used the word “pleonasm” — or using more words than needed — in one of these columns. Here are some of the more common pleonasms we use in our writing. The unnecessary word or phrase is underlined.

rest up: I’ve never heard of someone resting down, have you?
high noon: The classic movie starring Gary Cooper should have been titled simply “Noon.” (Please understand that that’s a tongue-in-cheek comment.)
noon luncheon: “Luncheon” is defined as a noonday meal.
summer months: No comment needed.
pair of twins: If you have a pair of twins, you have four people.
final outcome: An outcome is final.
personal friend: Being someone’s friend is a pretty personal thing.
invited guest: No comment needed.
the issue in question: All issues are in question.
general public: The public is general. If you’re talking about a specific public, as in “the reading public,” you have to tell me so.
controversial issue: Not only do issues involve questions, they imply controversy, as well.
future planning: This is almost always an unnecessary redundancy because most planning is for the future. There can be exceptions, such as “Past planning has proved ineffective,” but they are rare.
forward planning: Have you ever heard of backward planning?
serious crisis: A crisis is serious; that’s what makes it a crisis.
morning hours/afternoon hours/evening hours: These particular redundancies must be part of the curriculum for people who are in training to be weather announcers.


Dr. Price, a consultant with Sam E. McCuen and Associates of Lexington, taught copy editing and writing for more than 30 years at the University of South Carolina. Anyone interested in Price’s “Good Writing Is Good Business” seminars should contact McCuen and Associates at 803-920-9263 or sammc@pcmessages.com.

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