Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Locution, Locution, Locution: Fewer Words Take up Less Real Estate

The Internet offers writers unlimited space and so, for many, their writing expands expansively. Readers, however, have limited attention spans. So here are a few circumlocutions, or wordy phrases, that seem particularly ascendant. Occasional use of them may be needed for clarity, but most of the time, it's just inattentive or bloated writing.

Price point: "Food friendly wines at a $20 price point are available." Why not just say "Food friendly wines are available for $20"? That saves three words and sounds so much less like a press release. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this usage to the United States in 1894, but lists it as a marketing term. A search for occurrences of "price point" in just the past one month overwhelms Nexis, yet there are few times when the "price" is not right.

Fan base: The OED also traces this to the U.S., to the Washington Post, in a 1979 story about soccer: "We have a great fan base. We need to build on it." That usage makes sense. Not so much the faddish use, as in "the team has a powerfully loyal fan base." Just say "has powerfully loyal fans" and save "fan base" for the stand your air-cooling machine sits on.

Temporary reprieve: By definition, a "reprieve" is temporary. If something viewed as negative is postponed, whether it be a prison sentence, a new tax or a school assignment, it is a "reprieve." If it will never happen, it is a "cancellation" or something more permanent than a "reprieve."

Advance planning: Another embedded definition that gets teased out in verbosity. If something is "planned," it is thought about in advance, so the "advance" is simply redundant. "Advance planning," judging from Nexis, seems to the forte of the advance team for political candidates. (This is in the same vein as "pre-planning," which we railed about this in 2009. Many of you haven't listened; that use seems even greater today. Sigh.)

Unfilled vacancy: Do we really have to say it? Apparently so, given the thousands of hits from websites, many of them government run. (Government, of course, being the source and champion of so much redundancy, perhaps there should be a Department of Redundancy Department.) If it's a "vacancy," it is "unfilled."

Many of these expressions are the equivalent of saying "I am a female woman" or telling students, "We will be measuring your performance statistics relative to those of your peers, and assigning the outcomes within the scoring parameters" instead of saying, "We will be grading you on a curve."

Save some bandwidth. Just cut it out.

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Merrill Perlman is adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and president of Merrill Perlman Consulting, offering consulting and freelance editing services and training in journalism, grammar and usage. Among her clients are The New York Times, ProPublica and the Poynter Institute. She writes the "Language Corner" column and blog for Columbia Journalism Review. Merrill retired in June 2008 after 25 years at The New York Times, most recently as director of copy desks with responsibility for managing 150 copy editors. Click here to read more articles by Merrill Perlman.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday May 3rd 2012, 8:06 AM
Comment by: begum F.Top 10 Commenter
Department of Redundancy!A new department I believe.
Thank you Ms. Merrill for assigning good job for the people worked in this department.
Some people just love verbosity by adding additional adjective to their writing or to their speech. Specially in politics the tendency is observed frequently. Business minded people also use the verbose style in order to convince their customers to buy their products.
We need free service from the Department of Redundancy office. Google should set up this free service provider department to make the verbose speech or writing to be concise ,effective and better.
Thursday May 3rd 2012, 12:58 PM
Comment by: Richard F. (San Diego, CA)
Reminds me of the currently frequent use of the descriptive "small little", which could in the future going forward eventually become "small-little", then "smallittle", ending up at the end of the day as the shorter and more distant "smalitle".
Thursday May 3rd 2012, 2:15 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
I used to scoff at "price point," too, until I learned from my retail clients that it's not exactly the same as "price." A price point is a suggested retail price that's determined in relation to competitors' prices. As demand or competition changes, the price point may change accordingly.

I do agree that "price point" should be reserved for business-school classrooms and internal corporate discussions. Consumers don't need to hear it.
Thursday May 3rd 2012, 4:28 PM
Comment by: Mike P. (Seattle, WA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
I believe that many of your examples represent "pleonasms," a word I learned surprisingly late in life but which I exercise at every opportunity. True fact! :-)
Thursday May 3rd 2012, 6:37 PM
Comment by: Mike P. (Seattle, WA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Ha -- I was just reading the magazine "Costco Connection" and there's an article about the "little black dress" (LBD). The article has this sentence:

"The LBD works at any price point, so it's accessible to women regardless of their economic background."

I think this fits in with Nancy Friedman's point that there's a subtle difference in the retail world between "price" and "price point." What do you think?
Thursday May 3rd 2012, 7:24 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
Mike: Excellent, um, point! In the case of the LBD, the price point is a range and a set of expectations: there's the Target price point (say, $20 to $40), the Macy's price point ($60-ish to $150-ish), the Neiman-Marcus price point ($300 and up), and so on. The Costco price point will represent the low end and will vary by geographic market--it's a floating point, if you will.
Thursday May 3rd 2012, 11:33 PM
Comment by: mac
is it not all a reflection of who we are: verbose tautologic garrulous and, well, you know . . .
and being any or all of these things is a fine tool to showcase one's smarts. is it not? (is this where we insert the smiley?)
anyone wanting to break this habit needs to try flash. pick a topic for a story and get it done within 100 words or, possibly for beginners, 250 and from there learn to edit until all the particulars are present to make a story plus a bit for texture. worx wonders.
Tuesday May 8th 2012, 8:04 PM
Comment by: mike H. (san diego, CA)
Not to dampen you ardor but some of the examples don't seem redundant me.

I thought "price point" came from consumer research. For example consumers view all prices below ten dollars equally. A dress "that works at any price point" is one that works no matter where you go, burgers or steak.

Also fan base suggests enough fans to make a difference and fans is a few drinking buddies.

Thank you for your article.


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