Splitting hairs

I was a cataloguer for over 25 years. This means I am a serial quibbler, arguer of the toss, and professional pedant about stylistic and linguistic matters. Thus I enjoyed David Astle’s piece in this morning’s Age, ‘A beginner’s guide to redundant acronyms‘. Covid-inspired expressions such as “RAT test” and “face masks” (as opposed to those worn on the knee) are called out. Astle also lists common tautologies such as “clenched fist”, “minor quibble”, “past experience” and “end result”.

Pedants will all have their lists of personal irritants. Mine includes

  • local residents (as in, “local residents expressed concern about the spate of accidents at the intersection”). If those interviewed were not locals, i.e. living near the intersection, they wouldn’t have been interviewed. Hence “local” is redundant.
  • band together, join together, etc.
  • sleeveless vest
  • unfairly maligned (it’s difficult to malign someone fairly)
  • reverting back
  • ISBN number (a favourite among librarians who have forgotten that ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number)
  • very unique (qualifying an absolute)
  • very adjacent (ditto; restricted in practice to cricket commentators believing that a batter was out leg before wicket; possibly ironic by now)
  • predicting the future (what else?); and
  • long standing (or established) traditions — is there another kind?

I am a bit exercised about “small select group”. The notion of a large select group seems counterintuitive, but not impossible. Therefore I will give it the benefit of the doubt.

This is not a redundancy exactly, but has anyone noticed the increasing incidence of sentences beginning with “So”? (For example, “So, at the beginning of last century … .”) I suspect this is an Americanism. So, I’ll leave it there!

2 thoughts on “Splitting hairs

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised; sports reporters tend to be a bit cavalier grammatically. I thought of a few more common redundancies: “work colleagues” and “five a.m. (or whatever time) in the morning”. (Funny how no-one says “five p.m. in the afternoon”!) “Forward planning” is another hardy perennial; I have even heard “advance forward planning”, making it a double tautology. Respect!


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