Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

 

Recently, I wrote a column about bilingual redundancies, such as “the La Mesa Library.” In the billowy mail bag of responses, this analysis gleamed out:

“In your recent column regarding the double the problem for places with names of Spanish origin you failed to mention, that these names are not thought of in their Spanish context by the Anglos who live in the southwest. When we say or write or think of La Mesa, El Cajon or Del Mar, we don’t think of ‘The Table,’ ‘The Box’ or ‘The Sea.’ Rather we think of the place that is named. The Spanish words in the name no longer have the literal definition they once denoted as a place name, and the speaker or writer is referring to the city or town or region and not the original Spanish words.” -Herb Kelsey, El Cajon

I am here to tell you that bilingual repetitions are just a drop in a deep bucket of redundancies. To expand the metaphor, I am adrift in a sea of American overspeak. The sea is a perfectly appropriate metaphor here, for the word redundancy is a combination of the Latin undare, “to overflow” and re-, “back,” and literally means “to overflow again and again.”

To flip the metaphor yet again, I am surrounded by an army of recurrently repetitive redundancies. In fact, I am completely surrounded. Even more than that, I am completely surrounded on all sides. These repeated redundancies are in close proximity to my immediate vicinity, which is a lot worse than their being in distant proximity in a vicinity far away.

I turn on the radio or television and learn that “at 10 a.m. in the morning” a man has been found “fatally slain,” “leaving no living survivors,” that a convict “has successfully escaped” (how else does one do it?), that “foreign imports” are threatening to destroy the balance of trade (by outnumbering the domestic imports, presumably) and that the weather is “minus 10 degrees below zero.”

Sports announcers inform me that a certain fullback has had his “forward progress stopped,” that a promising young athlete “has a fine future ahead of him” (while my athletic future is long behind me) and that a track star has just set a “new record,” a feat much more newsworthy than setting an old record.

Richard Nixon eulogized the life of statesman Adlai Stevenson with these words: “In eloquence of expression he had no peers and few equals.” Peers are not superiors; they are equals. When asked about his vice presidential ambitions, Mayor Robert Wagner of New York said, “I have reiterated over and over again what I have said before.” Other gems of political overspeak uttered by head honchos (who are higher up than subordinate honchos) include “I’m in favor of letting the status quo stay as it is” and “In the 1930s we were not just a nation on our backs. We were prone on our backs.” I assure you that all these quotations are true facts.

It may come as an unexpected surprise (even more surprising than an expected surprise) that the pervasive and persuasive messages of advertising are fraught with false pretenses, which are a lot more dangerous than true pretenses. One stack of products is “100 percent pure,” certainly more pristine than being 50 percent pure. Other product boxes trumpet the arrival of a “bold, new innovation,” which sure beats any bold, old innovation that is “new and improved.” (Can something really be both new and improved?) Appliance companies keep flooding the market with hot-water heaters, even though these machines are obviously made to heat cold water. And Raid insecticide “kills bugs dead,” which is just the way they should be killed.

All this linguistic overkill reminds me of Vaughn Monroe’s hit song of the 1950s, “There, I’ve Said It Again” and stirs within me not just a sensation, but one singular sensation. “Save 40% off!” blares the typical special sale sign. A San Diego strip club advertises “Totally, totally nude! Live girls,” much more entertaining than partially nude dead girls. Various hotels promise “a honeymoon for two” — the old fashioned kind!

Of all the adspeak that congests my mailbox the most repetitively redundant is “free gift.” Sometimes I am even offered a “complimentary free gift.” I sigh mightily with relief, grateful that I won’t have to pay for that gift.