Repetitive redundancies and other ridiculous nonsense

The English language, as commonly spoken in this country, is full of excessive verbiage and unnecessary phraselogical redundancy -- in other words, tautology.

Taut "¢ ol "¢ o "¢ gy:
Needless repetition of an idea, esp. in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness, as in "widow woman."

Some tautological phrases are so ingrained in our popular language -- like "bits and pieces" or "first and foremost" -- that to simplify them would destroy their traditional impact. This is what interests me: when language abandons utilitarianism in favor of habit. Richard Kallan's book Armed Gunmen, True Facts and other Ridiculous Nonsense is a great collection of common and uncommon tautological phrases, and we thought we'd highlight some of our favorites here.

"¢ "False pretense"
If pretense is "the act of alleging falsely," as asserts, then wouldn't a false pretense be ... true?

"¢ "Advance warning"
A warning delivered after the fact is known, I believe, as "Monday morning quarterbacking."

"¢ "Convicted felon"
If we're guilty until proven innocent, there shouldn't be too many convictionless felons running around.

"¢ "Surviving widow"
Kallan defines it thusly: "The last woman standing in an all-widow game of Russian roulette."

"¢ "Fall down"
Gravity tends to make this modifier unnecessary.

"¢ "All throughout"
More pervasive than occasionally throughout.

"¢ "Close proximity"
As opposed to a distant proximity?

"¢ "Sum total"
This really gets the point across ... and then sum.

"¢ "Shared dialogue"
When was the last time you heard a shared monologue?

"¢ "Mass exodus"
When everyone leaves church at the same time? And speaking of church ...

"¢ "Holy Bible"
I'm so tired of these unholy Bibles.

Repetitive redundancies are everywhere -- what are some of your favorites?

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

TAKWest, Youtube
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]


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