Friday, May 22, 2009

Hold Your Horses!

I have a mental file cabinet filled with cliches. Cliches like: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" and "You're barking up the wrong tree." There are hundreds of others.

I learned these cliches as I was growing up in the same fashion as I learned to speak. They are part of my rich vocabulary. Too much a part! Sometimes I have blurted out one of these gems with embarrassing consequences, like when I am in a business meeting with individuals whose native language is not English. Somehow my polished argument loses its gloss when cliches are thrown in.

The same is true in writing, though the types of cliches are different. They are written redundancies that have achieved common usage. Here are some examples:

the reason was because - the word "because" is sufficient
on account of the fact that - see above
free gift - a gift should be free!
few in number - doesn't few imply a number?
circular in shape - doesn't circular imply a shape?
disappear from sight - what else are you going to disappear from?
in my opinion I think - isn't your opinion what you think?

Grammarians refer to these as tautologies or pleonisms. To me, these are redundancies that have achieved cliche status in common writing. Edit them for polished writing.

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