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Don't get too carried away with words

Even for a logophile as I am, excess is not a positive.

Sometimes it is difficult to draw the line, but avoiding superfluities makes your wording more clear. I guess this was my first example, because “superfluities” is a little much for “excessiveness.”

Sometimes our use of language is impacted by triteness. These expressions are worn out from overuse. It may also be called hackneyed or a cliché.

Each of these has a self-explanatory root. Trite is from the Latin tritus, which means to rub or wear out. Hackneyed is derived from the idea of a horse or carriage let out for hire, devoted to common use, and thus worn out. Cliché’s origin is the French word clicher, for “to stereotype.”

Clichés may seem valuable when first learned, but they may become overworked. Because trite words or phrases are familiar, they may occur to us more readily than others. We need to look at them carefully to be sure they are exact. Sometimes they fit one of these categories because the populace overuses them, sometimes just because we ourselves use them too often. We have all probably known someone whose speech was continuously riddled with a specific expression.

Some common words or phrases here are: "like a fish out of water," "sadder but wiser," "last but not least," "at the end of the day," and "awesome!" Remember that these become negative when used to excess.

Wordiness in general can cause one to miss his point. Why not say, “Please,” instead of, “I would appreciate it if…”? It would be more effective to say, “If,” rather than,”In the event that…” After all, The Golden Rule has just 11 words, The Ten Commandments contain only 75 words, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has just 267 words.

Some awkward redundancies (aka tautologies) basically say the same thing over: join together, complete monopoly, revert back, and recur again.

One of my favorite ineffective wordings is known as gobbledygoop. It often applies to a governmental message of unnecessary complexity.

One such Washington pronouncement included, “The chance of war” referred to as, “In the regrettable eventuality of a failure of the deterrence policy…”

This last term was coined by a former congressman, weary of involved government reports. Where is such a guy when we need him?

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net