A pleonasm is a rhetorical device (why do all rhetorical devices sound like nasty medical conditions?) that uses more words than are necessary to express a concept clearly, either for emphasis, fault of style (redundancy) or because it is an established phrase or idiom. The word is derived from the Greek word pleon, meaning “more, too much.” A pleonasm is the opposite of an oxymoron, which is the juxtaposition of two contradictory terms (e.g., “new classic” or “accurate estimate”). “Burning fire” is a perfect example of a pleonasm — naturally, a fire is burning, so you really don’t need the first word. “Tuna fish” and “free gift” are two examples of pleonasms that are established idioms; even though they are redundant, they sound right. Correct, right?
George Carlin was a brilliant comedian who was fascinated by the use and abuse of the English language. He wrote some of the funniest bits about euphemisms, oxymorons, morons in politics, and of course, pleonasms. His collection of observations, “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops” Carlin includes this gem titled “Count the Superfluous Redundant Pleonastic Tautologies”: “I needed a new beginning, so I decided to pay a social visit to a personal friend with whom I share the same mutual objectives and who is one of the most unique individuals I have ever personally met. The end result was an unexpected surprise. When I reiterated again to her the fact that I needed a fresh start, she said I was exactly right; and, as an added plus, she came up with a final solution that was absolutely perfect. Based on her past experience, she felt we needed to join together in a common bond for a combined total of twenty-four hours a day, in order to find some new initiatives. What a novel innovation! And, as an extra bonus, she presented me with the free gift of a tuna fish. Right away I noticed an immediate positive improvement. And although my recovery is not totally complete, the sum total is I feel much better now knowing I am not uniquely alone.”
Here are some other examples of pleonasms to sprinkle in your conversation and writing:
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For further reading: http://www.oxymoronlist.com