I first noticed redundancy in marketing back in the 1970s, when banks would offer a “free gift” if you opened an account. I think I remember checking with my mother, our family’s language maven, to be sure I wasn’t missing something. “If it’s a gift, doesn’t that mean it’s free?”
Marketers have long been masters of the redundant. How many times have you seen notices for “money-saving coupons?” The only common meaning of the word “coupon” in consumer society today is a certificate for a price discount. There’s no need to qualify “coupon” with “money-saving.”
Other common redundancies include “added bonus,” “few in number,” “first began,” and one that you hear all the time (so to speak): “ A.M. in the morning.” Wake up, people: “A.M” means “in the morning.”
That free toaster from your bank was just the tip of the iceberg. Redundant verbiage has been part of our culture for a long time, and creative new instances pop up all the time. In more than one airport recently I’ve heard a new standard phrase in announcements: “This is the last and final boarding call for [Flight XYZ].” Last and final? Marketing is one thing, but language failures at an airport don’t fill me with confidence in the operation, and an airport is one place I want to know that everything is being handled professionally.
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 (to use a phrase from marketing) than just “last” or just “final.” Either one is sufficient. “Last and final” just makes you sound stupid.
Secretary of State John Kerry is not a stupid man, but dig this masterpiece of redundancy, from a statement quoted yesterday on the PBS Newshour:
“We are simply in a mode of trying to help and assist and develop a Libyan capacity to be able to respond to the challenge of security within Libya.”
That marvel boasts two redundancies in one sentence: “help and assist,” and “capacity to be able to.” “Help” and “assist” are synonyms, and having a “capacity” to do something means “being able to” do it.
Choosing words carefully is part of a diplomat’s job. Piling them superfluously on top of one another shouldn’t be.
And that’s my last and final word on the subject. (Until it’s not.)