PLEONASM [PLEE-uh-naz-uh m]: use of too many words to make a point


I’m the worst!    I am forever being told to simplify my language.  It seems I use too many words to make a point.  I’m guilty of chronic pleonasm.  Somebody reading something I wrote recently said to me, “Eliminate 90% of your adjectives.  You will still make your point, and the reader won’t get bored before you get to the noun.”

I get the point, and I’m working on it.

Pleonasm is a word that means the use of too many words to make a point.  Or, another way of describing a pleonasm is that it describes a redundancy.  In the illustration I have chosen for today, for instance, “prepay” and “in advance” mean the same thing.  There is no need for one of the terms.

In my writing I am wont to say things like “she was fat and plump.”  Why?   I think I just get enamored with words and want to say them out loud.  Plump is a great word, meaning more than fat.  It implies a friendly connotation to the person, whereas fat just describes a physical condition, like “overweight.”  That’s a technical word, but it has no character to it.

In any case, I (and others) need to be careful not to over-describe something or someone by using pleonasms. 

The word comes to us from the Greek word pleonasmos, which means to be excessive.  That’s ironic, in that Greeks love to be excessive in their language.  It’s such a beautiful language that trips off the end of the tongue that words and sounds of Greek words are like music.  The more the better.

The website, has an interesting list worth seeing:

Common examples of pleonasms in writing include:

- burning fire
– cash money
– end result
– all together
– invited guests”

The author of the post also explains that the word pleonasm is often confused with oxymoron.  But, whereas a pleonasm is the repeating of similar words to mean the same thing, an oxymoron is the joining together of two opposing words, as in referring to an “open secret.”  It’s either an open knowledge or a  secret.  It can’t be both.  I find it hard to understand how these two words get confused, but evidently it’s common.

This is a particularly good time to listen for such confusions of words.   Political seasons give rise to an over-abundance of political speeches, some of which are well-crafted and memorable.  Others are sloppily constructed, many of them on the fly, and contain such weird configurations as pleonasms.  We will hear a lot about candidates who are “recognized celebrities,” “convicted ex-cons,” and “beloved good friends of the community. ”   The exuberance of the introductions is to be expected.  It’s part of the political game.  But it’s also entertaining as people trip over themselves in trying to paint the picture of the ideal candidate.

Listen for it.  And remember that you heard it here first:  pleonasms.


Photo Credit: Flickr

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