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Home / Culture and Society / Language Matters in Life and Business: My Last and Final Column About Redundancy
Every walkway is a "pedestrian walkway." Redundancy should be used sparingly, and only when it contributes to rhetorical effect or provides necessary emphasis.

Language Matters in Life and Business: My Last and Final Column About Redundancy

pedestrian walkway redundancy
My pet peeve

When a sidewalk is blocked by construction in New York City – and this burg has 280 miles of scaffolding, according to The New York Times – pedestrians are typically diverted to a “pedestrian walkway.”

Found on signs all over New York and elsewhere, that redundant phrase bothers me probably more than it should, but I point it out for a reason. In security measures, redundancy is good. In language, it’s bad.

“Pedestrian walkway” is a trivial example; it doesn’t actually hurt anyone, except for bruising the feelings of hypersensitive language mavens. But it’s so unnecessary. The word “pedestrian” means someone who’s walking. The plain word “walkway” would be sufficient to indicate the “way” we’re supposed to “walk.”

A redundancy that really galls me is the phrase “fiction novel,” which I see all the time in press releases announcing new books. Typically, to be fair, these are announcements written not by professional press representatives but by the books’ authors themselves. Still, while a manager of a construction site need not, I suppose, be language-savvy, a novelist, I would hope, would be. Yet so many seem ignorant of the most basic facts about what they’ve just spent months or years doing – writing a novel, which is by definition a work of fiction.

Here’s another example from everyday life. Airport terminal announcements are now phrased like this: “This is the last and final boarding call for Flight 123.” The last and final call. As if stringing together two words that mean exactly the same thing will give stragglers a harder kick in the pants to get to their gate.

Of course there’s the old standby (speaking of airports), the “free gift.” Effective marketing-speak for decades if not centuries, it shows no sign of imminent departure.

In rhetoric, such a redundancy is called a pleonasm, and if there’s a Greek word for it, surely it has a place in discourse.

But redundancy should be used sparingly, and only when it contributes to rhetorical effect or provides necessary emphasis. Redundant language may create an insistent tone, and when used artfully it can provide effective emphasis. But all too often, what it’s really signaling is overcompensation for insecurity and doubt.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases.

Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires.

Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he’s a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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Language Matters in Life and Business: Redundancy

The worst thing about redundancies is they aren't effective in the way people seem to think they are. "Last and final" isn't a stronger call to action than just "last" or just "final." Either one is sufficient.