Archive for the ‘Pleonasm’ Category

secret cabal

January 13, 2021

(Hanging in my posting queue for some considerable time, but just as relevant now as then.

From John McIntyre on Facebook on 9/6/18:

Guardian writer refers to a “secret cabal” in the Trump administration. What other kind does he think there is?

The crucial point is the definition of cabal. From NOAD:

noun cabal: a secret political clique or faction: a cabal of dissidents.

That is, cabals are by definition secret, and secret cabal is pleonastic, so is to be avoided (in favor of plain cabal). The general principle is the Strunk / White Avoid Needless Words dictum. (Yes, we can dispute the applicability of the dictum in particular cases. More below.)

In my mental filing cabinet, the relevant drawer is labeled pilotless drone, after a specific example I discussed at some length back in 2007. Then, of course, the question will be whether my treatment of pilotless drones carries over to secret cabals


Active shooters, armed gunmen, and their ilk

March 24, 2018

(For the day of the Marches for Our Lives.)

On March 2nd in the Stanford Report, the university’s daily newsletter for faculty and staff, the top item:

(#1) About the video “Run. Hide. Fight. — Surviving an Active Shooter Event”

My main interest here is in the family of expressions that includes active shooter and armed gunman, but as usual my attention will wander far afield.


Annals of p.r. pitches

March 2, 2017

In the tradition of my 2/4 posting “Demented p.r. pitches, absurd ad copy”, I begin with an annoying initial p.r. pitch (on January 6th) for “optimizing ad space”, from a representative (JP) of a company I’ll call King Holdings to a blogger (KW):

I’ve been trying to get in touch with somebody in regards to learning about your site’s advertising strategy – specifically how you’re set up monetizing your site.

My name is [JP] and I work for [King Holdings], which is a premium ad exchange …

I’d love to talk about how you’re currently optimizing your ad space and what [King] can provide to scale it. Who is the correct person to contact regarding this opportunity?

Rather than just deleting the feeler, or replying that he was a blogger and not in need of advertising, KW chose to take the bait and throw it back with a big hook in it (a response to Nigerian Scam letters that people occasionally adopt, even understanding that they might be embarking on a major project). (more…)

On the pleonasm watch

May 2, 2015

On WQXR (classical music in NYC), yesterday’s playlist included what was announced as:

Debussy’s one and only string quartet

The expression one and only looks pleonastic here; either Debussy’s one string quartet or Debussy’s only string quartet would have done, but one and only nails things down twice. Despite that, the expression is very common, and is treated as an idiom in some dictionaries.


Excrescent ‘s

June 8, 2012

Back on May 21st, Victor Steinbok posted an example from a comment on Google+:

(1) Does anyone see what’s the tactic is?

noting that such things were common in comments and in speech, and observing that (1) could be seen as a blend of

(2a) … what’s the tactic?

(2b) … what the tactic is?

(If you’re dubious about (2a), hold that thought for a moment.)

Searching for more examples of the form {“what’s the * is”} was pretty much hopeless, thanks to the flexibility of Google searches, but I did pull up a large number of examples of the form:

 what’s the Expletive is

and then, more generally:

what’s/who’s the Expletive FormOfBE

and also

what’s the Expletive FormOfDO

which have no natural analysis as blends. Instead, the expletive examples look like they have an excrescent ‘s, reinforcing or emphasizing the WH interrogative word — as in non-standard how’s about, how’s come, what’s about, etc. mentioned here (section 11).


A bunch of condescending pedants

January 26, 2012

Via Tim McDaniel, this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:

(Maybe I should create a new postings category Stereotypes of Linguists.)

The professor believes that all pedants are condescending, so that condescending pedant is a redundant, pleonastic, phrase. But quite likely the student intends condescending to be a appositive rather than intersective modifier (see the pilotless drone discussion here) — reinforcing the component of condescension in pedant, rather than narrowing the reference of the noun. From the pilotless drone posting:

You might think that even the appositive reading of “pilotless drones” would be stupid, since drones are all pilotless. But look at the explicitly appositive version: “drones, which are pilotless”. This isn’t stupid at all; it REMINDS us, in a helpful way, that drones are pilotless. In general, even when the denotation of Adj is included within the denotation of N, appositive Adj N can do useful discourse work. As a bonus, since intersective Adj N is stupid in this situation, the potential ambiguity is eliminated in practice, in favor of the appositive reading.

(Of course, labeling condescending pedant as a redundancy is itself condescending pedantry, so the professor’s last sentence has the flavor, if not the actual form, of self-referentiality.)

Cannibal shrimp

December 3, 2011

(Warning: This posting will wander some.)

It started with a story in New Scientist (online 11/17/11, in print 11/19/11): Chelsea Whyte’s:

Cannibal shrimp shows its romantic side

In order: (1) the interpretation and accenting of cannibal shrimp; (2) the tale of the cannibal shrimp (no linguistics to speak of here); (3) cleaner shrimp; (4) CRSs and their potential for cannibalism; (5) CRS shrimp and other instances of RAS syndrome; (6) orphan initialisms.


for on the desktop

October 31, 2011

A few days ago on ADS-L, Wilson Gray reported this example:

iTunar Desktop is a small iTunes info viewer for on the desktop. (link)

and queried for on.

The short response is that this is just a P (for) with a PP object (on the desktop) — an ordinary construction of English (in The cognac is for after dinner, I took the basket from under the desk, etc.), discussed in the big grammars of standard English (like CGEL). So the structure of

(1) for on the desktop


(2) P1 + [ P2 + NP]

and for on isn’t a constituent within (1).

But that’s not the end of the story.


+of EDM on the march

September 20, 2011

Jon Lighter on ADS-L on the 18th:

OK, we all know about the intrusive “of a” in “It isn’t that big of a deal.”

But in an ad for Kathy Griffin’s forthcoming TV special, she seems to say clearly, “I just heard a huge of a rumor!”

Of course, maybe it’s just a weird “huge,” n., and not a super-weird intrusive “of a.”

Not, I think, a nouning of huge, but rather a new (to me) variant of +of EDM: “exceptional / extraordinary degree marking / modification” with of. (more…)

September 19(th)

September 19, 2011

A blast from the past: from a 2009 posting on writing dates:

… any number of manuals tell you that you must not write {January 13th} (curly brackets enclose written material); only {January 13} is acceptable. The usual defense is that {January 13th} is prolix, because it has an unncessary {th}. Omit Needless Letters, or something like that.

What makes this proscription especially bizarre is that {January 13} must be read as “January thirteenth”. I cannot say “I met him on January thirteen”. That is, {January 13th} is faithful (but, to some people’s measures, not well-formed).

So there’s an orthography-to-pronunciation convention. Ok, I guess. But what riles me is all those advice sites that dump on {January 13th} and the like, as if they were signs of idiocy. Why do people care so much?

Some publications have taken the matter in hand and decided to spell such dates rationally. The Economist, in particular, is consistent in its spellings. A recent issue uses the rational spelling in its headers:

The Economist September 10th, 2011

and in the text, as in this example from “The Libyan dilemma” on p. 45 on that issue:

On September 6th, China issued a white paper on its “peaceful development” (ie, rise) …

I’ve started using this variant myself.