CLOSE
Shutterstock
Shutterstock

9 Common Phrases Longer Than They Need to Be

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

The word pleonasm describes phrases that use more words than necessary to get across a point. Sometimes a pleonasm is used for effect. Other times it's just redundant. Here are some examples people use all the time. Add your own in the comments.

1. Nape of the neck. There’s only one nape, and it’s the back of your neck. It’s possible we get confused by the “scruffs” of animals’ necks since there are other scruffs out there. If you’re ever talking about a nape, though, you can drop "of the neck."

2. False pretense. This is one we all should have known before. Although pretense technically means any “claim or implication,” the vast majority of the time, our usage of “pretense” already implies falsehood. For example: when’s the last time you thought something was both pretentious and genuine?

3. Frozen tundra. “Tundra” comes from the Russian word for Arctic steppes, and tundra is generally characterized by permafrost, frozen subsoil. Technically, there is non-frozen Alpine tundra, so-called from lack of vegetation, not temperature. Still, the vast majority of tundra is frozen. So, whether you’re talking about northern Siberia or poking fun at North Dakotan winters, this phrase is generally redundant.

4. Gnashing of teeth. This one is a symbol of frustration and suffering. But “to gnash” already means “to grind one’s teeth” and has meant that since the fifteenth century. If the only thing you can gnash is teeth, this little turn of phrase is pitch-perfect pleonasm.

5. Head honcho. “Honcho” is a relatively new addition to English, coming to us from Japanese around the time of World War II. In Japanese, hancho means “group leader,” so American servicemen picked the word up in normal conversation. However, since “honcho” (with the anglicized spelling) already means boss or leader, adding the head is just excessive.

6. Bleary-eyed. People wake up bleary-eyed every morning. People get bleary-eyed every day and fuel those 5-Hour Energy commercials. “Bleary” already means dulled or dimmed in vision. No other part of you can be bleary at all. Other things can be bleary, like a foggy mirror, but if you’re bleary, you don’t need to add the part about your eyes.

7. Veer off course. There’s no other place a person can veer. “Veer” means “to change direction” or “to go off course” no matter what. In fact, it’s meant that since at least the 1580s. Because the prepositional phrase is unnecessary, English speakers have probably been overstating their veers for centuries.

8. Safe haven. “Haven” is an old word. And several dictionaries still list its literal meaning first: “harbor” or “port.” But since the 13th century, English speakers have primarily used the figurative meaning: a place of safety and refuge. So, unless you’re telling someone about an especially non-threatening harbor, you can leave off the first part.

9. Ford a river. This one isn’t nearly as common as the others. But from time to time, one hears about fording a river. “Ford” as a verb means “to cross a river or stream” coming from the noun “ford” for a shallow place in the water. In theory, one could ford a lake, but no one ever says that.
* * *
Prepay in advance? Tired cliché? Give us your best pleonasms below.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
language
8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words
iStock
iStock

Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.

1. BREF

Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.

2. SANTIGUADORA

Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”

3. HELLHÖRIG

The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.

4. VORSTELLUNG

Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.

7. TERTULIA

Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.

8. PAN/PANI

Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to Culture.pl, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
Why Are Small, Fancy Hats Called Fascinators?
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Even if you aren't invested in the lives of British royals, it will be worth tuning in to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding on May 19 for a glimpse at all the elaborate headgear. Fascinators—tiny, elaborate hats that are clipped to the wearer's head—are a popular fashion choice among the women of the royal family today. The name may seem like a perfect fit for the eye-catching accessory, but as Co.Design explains, the hat was called something entirely different until the 1960s.

The term fascinator first surfaced in the fashion world in 17th-century Europe. Back then, it referred to a lacy scarf women wrapped around their heads (or "fastened," hence the name). Rather than attracting stares from across the room, this version of the hat was meant to give women an alluring air of mystery. By the mid 20th-century, a slew of new hat styles hit the scene, leaving both the term fascinator and the garment it described to fall out of fashion.

In the 1960s, a New York milliner named John P. John decided it was time for the fascinator to make a comeback. Instead of thinking about the headpiece in its original sense, however, he used the name to rebrand the petite cocktail hats that were known at the time as clip-hats or half-hats. The sexy new name helped the already-popular design become even trendier.

Fascinators aren't that common in the U.S., but they're a staple of high-profile royal events in the UK. Princess Beatrice realized the accessory's full potential when she debuted her now-iconic fascinator at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. (She eventually auctioned it off on eBay for charity, where it sold for a cool $130,000.) As a result, her head will be the one to watch when she arrives at her cousin Harry's wedding this Saturday.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios