Style: Clichés, Pleonasms and Verbosity

 

Page Contents:

clichés
pleonasms
verbosity

 

Clichés

Many stock phrases have become entrenched in the language and are not only unobjectionable but practically unavoidable. Expressions such as
on the one hand and other things being equal have stood the test of time. Others have a much shorter life and 
consequently a greater capacity to
bore. These are the clichés, and to encounter one is like hearing the same joke for the tenth time; 
what was once fresh or witty has become stale
from overuse.

Clichés are to some extent excusable in spontaneous conversation, but in formal scripts and prepared speeches, where there is more time to think,
they are less easily forgiven –

      bow and scrape                                 leaps and bounds
      by and large                                     odds and ends
      chop and change                               part and parcel
      each and every                                 rack and ruin
      fair and square                                 rhyme nor reason
      grace and favour                               rough and ready
      heart and soul                                   spic
k and span
      hot and strong                                   thick and fast
      hum and haw                                     this and that
      if and when                                        ways and means
      kith and kin

      explore every avenue                         light at the end of the tunnel
      for want of a better word                    not to put too fine a point on it
      grind to a halt                                    on the whole
      I always say                                        taking all things onto consideration
      in any shape or form                          to all intents and purposes
      leave no stone unturned                     to cut a long story short

Particularly tiresome are the newcomers from the worlds of business, education and politics. They appear as if from nowhere and quickly reach
epidemic proportions –

      at the end of the day                            the name of the game
      between a rock and a hard place           on a steep learning curve
      the big picture                                      a proven track record                        
      the bottom line                                     put on the back burner
      customer-focused                                  put this one to bed                  
      the cutting edge                                    quality-driven
      an exciting new initiative                      take on board
      the green shoots of recovery                 a whole new ball game
      in the last
(final) analysis                      a win-win situation
      a level playing field

Like disposable nappies, such expressions are best used only once.

Clichés are especially conspicuous as the opening sentences of essays and articles. Few things are more discouraging to the reader than a  trite
and lifeless beginning –

      In recent times…
      In the modern world…
      In today’s society…
      In this day and age…
      It is a well-known fact that…
      Ever since time began…

(See also expletive sentences.)

 

Pleonasms

A pleonasm, often a cliché too, is a tautology (an expression that is necessarily true) or an expression that uses more words than are required to 
convey the intended meaning. Like clichés, some pleonasms have become so firmly established that objections would 
be pointless (aid and abet
null and void, peace and quiet, private and confidential). Most, however, are best avoided.

Some are word repetitions from abbreviations and acronyms –

      DOS operating system
      HIV virus
      LCD display
      OPEC countries
      PAT tested
      PIN number
      RSVP requested
      SALT talks

Other pleonasms are short phrases with needless adjectives or adverbs –

      advanced warning                            free gift                                 revert back
      armed gunman                                future prospects                     root cause
      basic fundamentals                          inadvertent error                   safe haven
      close proximity                                 individual person                   serious danger
      close scrutiny                                   join together                          skilled craftsman
      combine together                             may possibly                           so therefore
      completely unanimous                     merge together                       specific example
      component parts                              mutual agreement                  sudden impulse
      consensus of opinion                        new recruit                             sufficient enough
      continue to remain                           no cause for undue alarm       sum total
      diametrically opposed                       often in the habit of                surrounding circumstances
      dreadful disaster                              opening gambit                       tiny speck
      empty space                                     over again                               total destruction
      end result                                         past experience                       true fact
      entire universe                                 personal friend                       ultimate goal
      exact opposite                                   plan ahead                              under active consideration
      exact replica                                      postpone until later                underlying basis
      exact same                                        pre-book                                 unexpected surprise
      first conceived                                   pre-plan                                  unsolved mystery
      forward planning                               quite unique                            usual custom

In everyday speech and informal writing, emphatic pleonasms are often acceptable. For example, a letter ending with Thanks for your help; I
really appreciate it
, is entirely forgivable, just as we might legitimately stress that something is absolutely essential
completely unnecessary,
extremely urgent or very true. But in formal scripts, pleonasms generally give the impression of weak 
writing skills and serve only to fill valuable
space with dross.

(See also drafting.)

 

Verbosity

      ‘Emma, my love,’ said Mr. Micawber, clearing his throat in his magnificent
      way, my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles is so obliging as to solicit, in my ear,
      that he should have the privilege of ordering the ingredients necessary to
      the composition of a moderate portion of that Beverage which is peculiarly
      associated, in our minds, with the Roast Beef of Old England. I allude to –
      in short, Punch.
      (Charles Dickens, David Copperfield)

Dickens’s purpose, of course, is caricature, yet there are real-life Micawbers who have made a virtual art of obscurity and long-windedness. They
usually come from the worlds of business 

      In the event of any failure or malfunctioning of any component of the
      apparatus which renders the appliance inoperative and necessitates
      repair before the appliance will work normally, the Board will, at the
      request of the consumer within a reasonable period and during normal
      working hours and subject to the conditions and exceptions set out in
      paragraphs two and three below, repair or replace such components free
      of charge (If it breaks, we’ll fix it)

      If there are any points on which you require explanation or further
      particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be
      required by telephone (If you have any questions, please phone)

and education 

      High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for the
      facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process (Children
      need good schools if they are to learn properly)1

The only purpose of this sort of flatulence is to give a commonplace the semblance of wisdom.      

At its worst, verbosity can degenerate into barely intelligible bombast –

      The candidate should know and understand…how to demonstrate
      understanding of, and facilitate at the tactical and operational level,
      continuous improvement and change management activities in the
      context of the organisation, its culture and individual and team
      activities.
2

But these examples are exceptions. Most verbosity appears in short phrases such as the following, some of which are also listed above as clichés
and pleonasms –

      afford an opportunity – allow, let
      along the lines of – such as
      as a consequence of – because
      at an early date – soon (unless speaking of the past)
      at this particular moment in time – now
      by means of – by
      due to the fact that – because
      the fact of the matter is – in fact
      for the duration of – for, while
      for the purpose of – for, to
      for the reason that – because
      give consideration to – consider
      in any shape or form – at all
      in close proximity – near
      in connection with – about
      in excess of – more than
      in receipt of – have, has
      in relation to, with respect to – about
      in spite of the fact that – even though
      in terms of – in, as, by
      in the absence of – without
      in the course of – while, during
      in the majority of cases – in most cases
      in the near future – soon
      in the region of – about, approximately
      in this day and age – today
      in view of the fact that – because
      is of the opinion that – thinks that
      it is my considered opinion that – I think that
      knock-on effect – effect
      look closely as – examine, explore, investigate
      on a weekly basis – weekly, every week
      prior to – before
      the question as to whether – whether
      there will shortly come a time when – soon
      until such time as – until
      with a view to – so that

 

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1 Examples and their simplifications quoted from Plain English Campaign. Accessed 23.12.11.
2 Personal Portfolio Manager, The Institute of Management, 1998, p. 8.