I was working on an article recently and came across a quote that I wanted to use. It fit the topic perfectly. As I read along to see how much I wanted to take, I came across a huge disappointment. It was almost enough to make me look elsewhere for a quote. Hidden among the meaningful content, the person in question had said, “close proximity.” This pair of words is like nails on a chalkboard for me. It was a dilemma. Give up this perfect quote to search for who knows how long for something else, or put these two words into my own work, automatically decreasing its level of professionalism.
I did the only thing I could do.
I replaced the words with those three little dots that can save anything…and kept right on using the rest of the statement.
This reaction may make no sense to you. I mean what’s the problem really with phrases like close proximity, near future, vast majority, absolutely certain, advance notice, end result — the list goes on and on — new beginning, forever and ever, major breakthrough. They are all redundancies. You’re using two words that mean essentially the same thing. Redundancies don’t add emphasis, they don’t provide clarity, they just make you sound like you’re repeating yourself. Worse, it makes you sound like you don’t know what the words mean, which is why you’re using them together.
I know it can be argued that these have become colloquialisms so are okay, but for writers, I disagree. Sometimes you need a few extra words to hit a word count, but you don’t have to resort to repetition. I have editors who call me out if I use the same word too often in a paragraph, how is this tactic different?
In the beginning, there was close proximity
My eyes were open to this redundancy issue with the discovery that close proximity was the same as saying close close. How ridiculous, and yet it happens all the time. From there, I started noticing this issue with the English language across the board. We like being redundant. In some cases, I think it may make us sound more literate or distinguished as a writer. In other situations, I believe people feel like redundancies really help drive a point home. It wasn’t just the majority of people who felt this way, the vast majority of them did. You don’t have to tell me that the majority of the majority felt something, I get it with just a single word.
The trickle-down effect
As you can see, this issue in our grammar gets me emotional. I feel like it’s a simple thing to correct, yet so entrenched in the way we speak nobody even notices it. As a writer, I take my words very seriously. I never want to seem like I haven’t mastered my craft, so what I deem as bumps in the perfection of the English language hit me hard. This one in particular because everyone does it. My favorite authors, my well-educated friends. Very few seem to notice our perchance for redundant language and I don’t understand why. Being aware of the issue makes me frown at favorite books, look down on much-loved TV shows, and think less of people I care about — it’s elitist I know, but I can’t help how I feel.
Advice for writers
I share this information not to hate on you, or anyone, for succumbing to a redundant phrase now and again. I’m sure I still do it as well. I just point out this issue, and my feelings toward it, for awareness. For all the other writers out there, little nuances of grammar may not bother you, but they may be an issue for the client your writing that piece of content for, enough of an issue that it impacts whether they work with you again. When you write, I feel it’s important to take notice of redundancies in your content as well as other grammar issues someone may notice with an uneasy feeling. Don’t end sentences with a preposition. Use as few instances of passive voice as possible. Find out whether or not your client uses the Oxford comma before you begin writing. These all matter for good grammar. Paying attention to them, along with many more grammar police offenses, will help establish your reputation as a high-quality, detail-oriented writer. Thank you for letting me rant.