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Increasing Your Vocabulary: Pleonasm

Pleonasms are something that are very, very, extremely common today and most of us are guilty of using them. In fact, I used a pleonasm in the opening sentence.

Before I explain what a pleonasm is, I’ll give a few more examples. See if you can figure out what they have in common.

‘It was a tiny little kitten.’

‘What the guy gave was a true fact.’

‘The neighbor was in a bad accident.’

‘I enjoyed an ice cold drink.’

‘It was a free gift.’

All of these contain a pleonasm. Can you figure out what a pleonasm is?

A pleonasm is the use of redundant or unnecessary words to convey an idea. It is the opposite of being concise. It comes from the Latin pleonasmus, meaning redundant or more than enough. The term has been in use for over 400 years.

Pleonasms are so common that most people use them (and this statement is in itself a pleonasm). Sometimes it can be fun to take a pleonasm and think about the implied opposite. For example, for people who have been in a bad accident — it is rather difficult to imagine how they could have a good accident. Another example might be the question of how many people enjoy having an iced hot drink.

It is likely that people will continue to use pleonasms, but at least now you know what the word means and that there is indeed a word for it.

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Written by Rex Trulove

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10 Comments

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  1. In Mediaeval England the Aristocrats spoke French, the church (and scholars) spoke Latin, and the people spoke English, so in a court of law it was necessary to repeat the important words 3 times, once in each of the predominant languages. I wonder if that would constitute the use of pleonasms.

    • I have no doubt that it would, at least provided that the people understood each language. Even without understanding, though, our language is riddled with pleonasms. For instance, Mississippi means Big River, so the Mississippi River would translate to the Big River River. Rio is Spanish for River, so the Rio Grande River would translate to the River Great River.

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