In Defence of ‘Redundant’ Language


So I was playing a brain training game and one section was about removing ‘redundancies’ in language. Redundancies are repetitions in meaning such as ‘I, personally’ or ‘repeat, again’.

Now this got me thinking about how this sort of linguistic conformity is actually not that good for creative writing at all, and how despite the activity being a decent game, it misunderstands what language actually does and what it’s for.

So here’s several reasons why I don’t agree that redundancies are always bad in language.

1. Language is about efficiency, especially not in creative writing. It’s about effect.

Consider these two pieces of dialogue.

“I don’t know him.”

“I, personally don’t know him.”

The second one has more emphasis. The repetition of the meaning adds that. Without it, the emphasis would be lacking or would have to be moved. That would change the effect of the sentence.

“I don’t know him.”

Different effect again. Repetition is a perfectly valid linguistic tool for emphasis and too remove it here would be efficient but not dramatic. The purpose is to evoke not to convey information as plainly as possible.

2. Synonyms do not mean exactly the same thing. They are similar not exact.

For example. Dark and noir mean almost the same thing but have different connotations. Dark can be symbolic of emotions, psychological states, morality, lighting and even represent hidden. It has multiple connected potential meanings.

Noir tends to conjure up the image of night or mystery but sounds more like a detective story or more retro.

E.g His office was a dark, plain box room covered in fine dust.

His office was the clichéd, at one time avant garde, noir detective office.

Completely different tone. Synonyms have different effects and so one is not the same as another when it comes to questions of style.

3. Linguistic Diversity is Better than Conformity

So many times when you write fiction, you will adopt a certain style or tone that is your own. You may change this according to your audience but certain ways that you write are going to be what constitutes your own personal style. Most of the world’s language speaks, particularly with English, do not speak all in one dialect. Nor does the grammar remain exactly the same. In short, there is no such thing as a correct way to speak and write, only whether you and your audience understand the exchange.

And in creative writing sometimes you might want to be profound rather than obvious and leave your audience guessing what you meant by a certain statement to allow for interpretation. We do language a real injustice by trying to force excessive conformity on it and also engage in class prejudice, that often targets less wealthy, minority forms of a language. It creates linguistic discrimination when one group’s language is treated as inherently inferior to another.

4. It doesn’t sound stronger. In fact it often sounds more bland and comes from ‘corporate ideology’ about language efficiency, correct language and uniform structures of grammar. Consider these examples.

The empty void drowned out before her in a chasm of deafening silence.

The void drowned out before her in silence.

Both are perfectly fine. It would depend on the situation on which you would use but the first one sounds more poetic.

So while redundancies can be edited out and removed don’t obsess too much about ridding them completely from your writing. When it comes down to it, the matter is one of tone and personal choice and although a void is ’empty’ they do not create the same imagery. A void is generally imagine as a large, empty space, whereas a cup can be empty. Not many people would describe their cup as ‘a vessel void of liquid’. You could describe it that way but it sounds nothing like ‘an empty cup’ and therefore the implied meaning is different if not the literal meaning.

So don’t let anyone tell you redundancies are pointless in language. It’s your writing. Write it how you wish it to sound and see what works for you.

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