Monday, August 5, 2013

Word Follies

Redundancy, tautology, pleonasm--they all mean using more words than are necessary to convey a certain meaning.

I especially like bilingual pleonasms--expressions that feature two words with the same meaning, for  example, "the fireplace is the focus of the room"--as if it could be anything else, focus meaning "fire" in Latin. 

The French phrase, repondez s'il vous plait, already has a "please" in it, so one of the most common pleonasms, "please RSVP,"  is really pleading  "please, please respond."

Please RSVP
Restaurant menus abounds in pleonasms, such "steak with au jus,"   "a la carte menu," "prix fixe price," and "shrimp scampi."  These could be eliminated by requiring all chefs and restaurant owners to major in the language of the cuisine they specialize in.

Other pleonasms are unavoidable if you want to be understood.  Go into an American kitchen store and ask for a paella or a casserole (both words for "pan" in Catalan and French respectively) and they'll think you want the edible contents rather than the container itself.

But the worst--or maybe the best--pleonasm of all is the one I accidentally committed when I named  this blog.  Vermont gets its name from the French les verts monts--the green mountains.  So My Green Vermont is really saying "my green green mountains," which right now, with all the rain we've had, is certainly accurate.

I thought this was hilarious until my ever-witty spouse suggested that, since we live on a hill, I  rename the blog My Green Vermont Mountain.

13 comments :

  1. It was always lightly irritated that Americans didn't have enough knowledge of the other language that they tried to use badly. Their pronunciation also hurt my ears. Of course, they are not exposed much to anything else but their own language unlike we Europeans. Still, you'd think they'd make an effort.

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  2. There's nothing like the close-in borders of Europe to make you aware of different ways of seeing and speaking about the world. But when your land stretches "from sea to shining sea," it takes a special effort to realize that not everyone is exactly like you.

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  3. My favorite is "the La Brea tar pits," which translates to "the the tar tar pits."

    However, considering how difficult it is to get people to respond to an invitation, "please please respond" may be appropriate.

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    1. Thanks for the one about the pits!

      So you've noticed the reluctance to RSVP as well? There was an article in the Times about it a couple of years ago. It seems to be a major trend.

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  4. I love you and Ed! Our daughter-in-law finds chia tea funny.

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    1. You read my mind! I was casting about for examples and wondered if chia tea might be one, but didn't get to it.

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    2. Chia tea or chai tea? I know some people put chia seeds in their tea instead of growing chia pets with them, but that doesn't seem to have the same redundancy, although I find chia funny enough for other reasons.

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    3. I think it's chai that is redundant (right, mrb?).

      But chia seeds in tea (or chai)? Never heard of it, but I may try it to see what happens. I put chia seeds in our oatmeal and in rhubarb bread.

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  5. I love this and love that you do too. You made my evening.

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  6. Great post - prompted me to try to think of a few too but my brain has been in sleeper mode since coming to Hawaii - which has its own innumerable language props. When the locals want to bamboozle the tourists, they plug in a Hawaiian word in the middle of the sentence. You'd think the meaning would be obvious in context but the word often has a hidden meaning - ex - we are "pau" may mean we are finished here, but the locals sometimes mean "time to party." Reminds me of my Italian mother who always laughed when Frank Sinatra added a hard "ch" to the singing of Chicago - giving it a different meaning to those who knew Italian curse words. Ah, now I'm rambling...aloha (a word with a few meanings of its own).

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    1. I remember in Hawaii, trying to remember street names. All those vowels! So impenetrable, though beautiful.

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  7. I have wondered many times at your blog's title, given your reaction to "with au jus sauce" and "casserole dish." So nice to learn the word pleonasm.

    My favorite, always: "Double LL BBQ"

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  8. If you must know the awful truth: when I was desperately hunting for a domain name, My Vermont was already taken, so as my brain was shutting down I typed in "green" and it worked, and I must have pressed "enter." And here is an even more awful truth: it wasn't until we had put a contract on the house here that I ever thought about the etymology of the state's name.

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