I was listening to the news the other night when I heard the anchor refer to the death of a person as having died of a “health related illness”. After careful analysis, I was unable to identify any other kind, but perhaps I’m just not trying hard enough. It did get me thinking, however, about whether that type of statement has a name and indeed, it does. It is called a Pleonasm, and it is a lot more common then one might think. Since I can be anal about these things, I started nosing around to look for other common examples and it didn’t take long to compile a list.
It appears that no one is innocent. If you have read any Shakespeare, you will find them in his works. In Julius Caesar he refers to the “most unkindest cut of all” which begs the question “are their really degrees of unkindest”? And again in Hamlet he makes the statement “He was a man”. Um—- OK.
I think one of the most famous people, known for their redundancies was Yogi Berra. Many of us are familiar with his “Deja Vu all over again” and “Sometimes you can observe a lot just by watching”. But he by no means has a lock on the tendency. Dan Quayle once said “If we do not succeed, we run the risk of failure”. Pretty profound stuff. And, not to be outdone, Calvin Coolidge once emoted that “when a large number of men cannot find work, unemployment results”. Can’t argue with that.
It seems that celebrities, sports figures, politicians, news casters and readers are quite adept at dropping these little gems. However, everyone does it and we often don’t give it a second thought. How about “twelve midnight. Isn’t midnight always at twelve? Or “an unexpected surprise”. Is there another kind? And then there is the “I saw it with my own eyes” thingy or “A pair of twins”. Yup. Guilty as charged!!
Some Pleonasms are not as pronounced or obvious as others. This is frequently due to word derivations or abbreviations. Here are a few examples:
Rice Paddy Paddy is derived from the Malay word for rice (padi), so it is effectively a rice rice.
Head Chef In French, one of the definitions for chef is head. So I guess that would make them a head head.
Rio Grande River Loosely translated, it is really the Big River river.
Head of Cabbage The word cabbage comes from the Latin word ‘caput’ which not surprisingly means, you guessed it, head. So it is a head head.
As to abbreviations, you need not look very far. For instance:
CNN is the Cable News Network making it the Cable News Network network
RAM is therefore Random Access Memory memory
GOP is the Grand Old Party party
ATM is an Automatic Teller Machine machine
ABS is the Anti Lock Braking System system
Well, by now, if you are still here, I am sure you get the picture, so I will give it a break. If however, you would like more, you will have to let me know since I don’t do requests unless I’m asked. Just sayin.