Since the new cars first came on the market in late summer, there’s been one new car commercial that has become increasingly annoying. It concerns a car with sensors that will cause an automatic braking system to kick in if an obstacle is too close, thus avoiding, or at least minimizing, an accident. While I admire the technology, I abhor the grammar. To be specific; a voice asks, “Imagine you could predict an accident before it happens?”
I’m assuming that question was the brainchild of some genius who works for an advertising agency. He should not be allowed to work without supervision– or at least a dictionary. What does he think the word “predict” means, anyway? He must be the same guy who says things like “pre-plan ahead” and “general consensus of opinion,” that last being my favorite example of a double-redundancy. It’s right up there with such expressions as “short temporary hiatus” and “initial opening gambit.”
I recently came across a list of common redundancies compiled some years ago by Iowa travel writer, Bill Bryson. Many of the expressions on his list have become so commonly used that we tend to accept them as standard speech. I suppose we are aiding the inevitable process of change in our language by doing so. (“Aiding and abetting”, by the way, is just one of a myriad pomposities created by lawyers in their campaign to overwhelm the rest of us with verbiage.)
Some of the sneakier terms on Bryson’s list include; admit to, cut back, old adage, past history, the reason why, revert back, and close scrutiny. These and many others are so subtle, or so commonly used that we no longer notice their redundancy.
This list is from a copy that was in one of the archaeological piles of minutia that clutter my study, never quite getting completely sorted and organized, so I have no idea where or when it was first published, but it is from a book review by Dayna Norris and written anywhere from five to 25 years ago (my best guess.) In addition to the redundancies, it cites a list of commonly confused words; words that are often misused because of similarities in spelling or pronunciation. These are not necessarily homophones (words that sound alike, such as “waste” and “waist”) though that is possibly the main reason for most of the confusion. “Sight,” “site” and “cite” sound exactly alike but their meanings are unconnected.
I have trouble deciding which of these misused words annoys me the most, but “nauseous” and “nauseated” have to be somewhere near the top. Not too long ago, I heard a young stock boy at the supermarket discussing those two words with a co-worker. I was impressed by his apparent amusement regarding someone who claimed to be nauseous. “Not very many people would so eagerly claim that they make other people sick,” he said, chuckling. One day, that young man will probably own the supermarket where he started out arranging cans of creamed corn.
Other things on the list are; among and amid, imply and infer, amoral and immoral, appraise and apprise. At this point, most of us will begin to squirm, wondering if we are really sure of the meanings of some of those words. Well, fear not– the dictionary still exists and you can look up those words you’re not so certain about. I’ve added a few words of my own to that list recently. One pair of words I think must confuse nearly everybody, clamor and clamber, popped up recently in two books I’ve read. One word means to make a demanding or raucous noise, the other means to scramble or climb hastily. (Hint; match up the Bs in climb and clamber.) A friend who was writing about his military days complained that he couldn’t write cavalry without his spell-checker demanding he capitalize the word. Knowing it should be capitalized only if referring to a specific cavalry unit, or when referring to an organization such as The United States Cavalry, I asked him to spell it, and just as I suspected, he’d been typing the similar word Calvary, which refers specifically to the site where Jesus was crucified.
And then there are those words farther and further. I suspect the British and American usages are in opposition, since every novel by an English author seems to use “further” to mean “at a greater distance,” when I was taught that “farther” (“far” is your clue) is a distance word– for measurable distances only– and “further” is for everything else, as in “additional” or “greater.” Memorize this sentence. The farther I walk, the further the wear and tear on my shoes.
And, asks Bryson, “Why ever write ‘needless to say’?” (and then turn around and needlessly say it!)