Beware the Hydra-Headed Pleonasm

Writers, there lurks a danger here!

Evidence of the Pleonasm: Double Vision
This tiny little creature has at least two heads and a tangle of legs.  It lurks in the grey matter of all thinkers and will on occasion spill onto the printed page along with the writer’s blood and assorted ramblings.

There it lies squirming, wild and untamed, defying all reasonable sense (or is it sensible reason?)  Too many on a page may even expand your word count to the rejection of the whole article.

The best way of dealing with these, should you visually see one, is to cut one of its heads off.  The creature will then lie flat, smoothing its twisted convolution of legs into a sensible phrase.  But do be careful which head you chop off.  Authors usually deal with the adjective head lest their phrases be left handicapped and disabled.

For example, should you see past history, true facts or a shared consensus chop the first head off.  Thus past history becomes plain old history – or better yet, historically. Otherwise you’ll be in the past, which will up the word count.

If you can see clearly at 5am in the morning, chop the second head off.  (And if you regularly get up at 5 am, or early in the morning, you may even catch a tasty worm – or digest War and Peace.)

If you’re up until 11pm in the evening, lay the evening to rest.  If a tiny little flower springs up in your prose, you must trim some of its leaves.

Mental telepathy –which we may hanker after at times– also needs its first head cut off, so do be careful what you wish for.

Pleonasms may appear as two words, or they may form a puddle and really mess up word counts.  ‘Used to go to’ is a sneaky one so common to our vernacular.  I.e., “He used to go to flea markets on Sunday mornings before he became a Christian.”  Snip, snip!  “He frequented Sunday morning flea markets before..” or “Before he became a Christian he attended Sunday morning flea markets; now he’s in church.”

Bear in mind that now at this point in time editors prefer NOW.  Times have become different than what they used to be changed; magazine editors want you to be in the immediate vicinity of the word count.  Like near.  Very close.  Right on, even.  We don’t always understand the reason why, but they do, having the end product in view.

And copy editors are even more finicky nitpickers.


8 thoughts on “Beware the Hydra-Headed Pleonasm

    • You poor thing! If you ever write a novel, send it to me for proof-reading. 🙂

      Surgery helps for extreme cases. LARGE-print an article, 6-8 words on each sheet of paper, then cut the words apart and lay the sentences out with words in correct order. Remove every word you possibly can and type out what’s left. (This approach requires lots of printer paper.)


      • I have written a children’s book it is about 35 -36 pages long. I ask a friend for help in editing the the grammar. She loved the story idea so much she started to rewrite it so that she could be coauthor. The problem was she also was changing the personalities of the characters which changed the story line. So the the story sits till God gives me the next door opening to move into. My granddaughter has read the first draft of it and it had the desired affect I was looking for on her. At some points she would be laughing and in other parts she had to sit the story down to cry for it was just too sad. I have had no formal writing training so I know it needs help. I know someday God will open the door for this book I want to give to my grandchildren and the rest of the children of the world. This is one of my biggest prayer request I have for myself it is the only thing I ask from God for myself. I hardly every speak of this outside of my family. I am sorry I do not know what came over me.


      • I’m sorry that happened. Let that be a lesson to me: never rewrite someone else’s story. (Writers, including myself, have a hard time resisting that when asked to edit.)
        I’ll say a prayer for your children’s book, too, but I can tell you now that you’ll likely have to self-publish it. I’ve been studying the guidelines of writing for children, as I want to do some myself, and have learned that standards among secular editors are pretty narrow. Publishers avoid stories that make a child cry. Children should never suffer as a consequence of bad behavior. No parental involvement allowed. Etc.
        (Reading some of this made me take another look at Bible stories for children, and sure enough: in some of them David didn’t actually kill Goliath, but knocked him down. Gideon didn’t actually destroy the Midianite host, but chased them away. Etc. Meanwhile, video games children play… Whoops! I’d best not go there.)


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