Pleonastic Tautological Redundancies

See what I did there? Here are some common, yet often overlooked, examples of grammatical tautologies.

ATM machine sign

Sign at McBaker Market, San Francisco

heir apparent
end result
general public
doctorate degree
undergraduate student
root cause
old adage
major breakthrough
close proximity
final outcome

There are lots of tautological proper nouns, like the Los Angeles Angels (The the angels angels: Spanish) or Lake Tahoe (Lake the Lake: Washo). But they just are what they are.

Pleonasm can be syntactic or semantic.
Semantic pleonasm occurs when the grammar of a language allows for a word or words to be be left out of a sentence without changing the meaning. “That” is a commonly semantically pleonastic word in English:
I thought that you had read it” can be replaced by “I thought you had read it.”
Syntactic pleonasm is what we more commonly call a redundancy, such as this one taken from a popular book:
What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

The Great Singular ‘They’ Debate

#Abstract, by Ronosaurus Rex

#Abstract, by Ronosaurus Rex

The lovely and talented Ronosaurus Rex (author of the finely edited book Narrative Madness) has written an argument for the use of “they” as a generic singular pronounA Case for the Singular They as a Genderless Pronoun in Formal Speech and Writing.” The Chronicle of Higher Education has also recently covered the idea a few times in the recent past, largely agreeing with Professor Rex, as do I—recasting around the pronoun can affect shades of meaning, and “they” is already in common use in non-formal language (and has been so for centuries). (RR also discusses the use of “they” as a pronoun for agender people; we will comment on that usage, as well as some gender-related neologisms and current debates, in future posts.)

Books by Ronosaurus Rex (Ronald B. Richardson):
#Abstract, available at Blurb
Narrative Madness, available at Amazon (coming soon in dead tree format!)


A list of links, largely stolen from a recent Reddit thread of useful sites no one knows about, is up on BuzzFeed. In turn, here are a few links from those lists I hadn’t previously known (or had forgotten) about and think are pretty neat:

MerriamWebsterOnline’s YouTube channel. “Ask the Editor” is a series of videos covering all kinds of word and grammar issues. The perfect YouTube playlist for language mavens in search of something to listen to while folding laundry. Latest video: “It is I” vs. “It’s me.”

The WriteWords Word Frequency Counter. Although it has uses for all kinds of writing, I’m thinking of running cover letters through it to check for commonly overused words like “responsible,” “strategic,” and “effective.”curious lawn fox

The Online Etymology Dictionary. The work of one awesome person, this would have helped me explain the clear derivative difference between “virgin” and “vagina” when it came up.

Print Friendly.  A version of this functionality should be built into every browser. Available as a handy bookmarklet, Print Friendly does what it says on the tin—clearing away clutter and images from websites while leaving nice, readable text for printing, emailing, or downloading as PDF. It’s meant to save printer paper, and although it doesn’t always succeed at reducing the page count, it does still make most web pages much easier to save, print and read. Actually, to be fair, it might save me printer paper after all—having clean, searchable PDFs of research materials may obviate the need to print some of them entirely.

Bonus party-time link: ViddyJam. Pandora-style playlist creation for YouTube music videos.

Everyone, Every Day

Sign on University Avenue, Berkeley, 2014.

Sign on University Avenue, Berkeley, 2014.

There seem to be more and more instances of the adjective “everyday” being used where the adjective+noun (acting together as an adverbial phrase) “every day” should be used.  Everyday means: “Daily, quotidian, commonplace: happening every day.” Every day also means “daily,” but modifies a verb, not a noun.

Every Day vs. Everyday
The bus driver frowns at me every day. (adj. every modifies n. day; “every day” modifies v. frowns.)
It is an everyday occurrence. (adj. everyday modifies n. occurrence.)
Trick: If you can replace it in a sentence with “every night,” it’s two words. (“Everynight” isn’t a word.)

Similarly (as seen in the badly proofed sign pictured), “everyone” and “every one” are used differently. Everyone is a pronoun, meaning “every person.” Every one is an noun phrase, meaning “each,” often followed followed by a prepositional phrase describing “one”:

Every One vs. Everyone
Every one of his passengers dislikes him. (Both every and the prepositional phrase of his passengers act as adjectives describing one.) NB: This sentence is tricky in regard to subject/verb agreement: the root subject is one [singular], so the root predicate, dislikes, is correspondingly singular. Cf. the sentence:
All of his passengers dislike him.  All is plural, and therefore we use the plural verb dislike. One dislikes; all dislike.
Everyone dislikes him. (Everyone is a pronoun and the subject of the sentence, yet as above, uses one (singular) to determine the verb case.)
He is disliked by everyone. (Everyone is still a pronoun, but the object of the preposition by. The prepositional phrase by everyone acts as an adverb describing v. disliked.)

“Prepositional” is really hard to type correctly.

Passive Voice and Passival Tense

Happy Passive Voice Day!

Don’t go nuts trying to always avoid passive. Here is a useful illustration of other verb forms being confused for passive in student paper-grading, and links to Language Log posts on the passive voice.

Bonus links: Language Log on the now-archaic passival tense, replaced since ca. the mid-18th century by the progressive passive. Lexicon Valley podcast on passival.

Progressive: She put out the fire.
Passive: The fire was put out (by her).
Passival: The fire was putting out (by her).
Progressive+passive: The fire was being put out (by her).
Pennsylvania Dutch past perfect: She has outened the fire.

This Clickbait Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

Is Upworthy indirectly addressing a crisis of faith that internet users collectively feel? Is there something about the hyperlink that makes us want to believe, or disbelieve, what is on the other side? Does clickbait restore our faith or inspire our disbelief?

Life Sentences: The Grammar of Clickbait! From The American Reader. Short but sweet.

cf. @UpWorthIt on Twitter, which imitates the clickbait headline style flawlessly (e.g., “A Dude Told This Woman To Keep Quiet. Good Thing He Didn’t Tell Her Not To Cure Cancer, Cuz She Did.”), and the Downworthy browser extension, which replaces linkbait phrases with more truthful ones (e.g., “One Weird Trick” becomes “One Piece of Completely Anecdotal Horseshit” ).

h/t oceanjesse@MeFi