Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words 6 (Commonplace Book)

New. Nearly always the sense of newness is implicit and the word can be deleted without loss. For example "Spiderman 3 aims to set new records at the box office" -- well it was hardly going to aim to set old ones.

Noisome has nothing to do with noise; it means offensive or objectionable.

Obviate does not mean to reduce or make more acceptable; it means to make unnecessary.

Optimum does not mean greatest or fastest or biggest, as is sometimes thought. It describes the point at which conflicting considerations are reconciled. The optimum flying speed of an aircraft is the speed at which all the many variables that must be taken into account in flying -- safety, comfort, fuel -- are most nearly in harmony.

Past. Often a space waster that can be deleted without loss. Past records, past history, past 30 years, past experience, past achievement and past precedents are all tautological.

Pedant, pedagogue. Synonyms. In both cases the pejorative sense has driven out the older meaning of teacher.

Plan ahead. Always tautological. Would you plan behind?

Plethora is not merely a lot, it is an excessive amount.

Position. Often a pointer for verbosity. "They now find themselves in a position where they have to make a choice" would be better as "They now have to make a choice."


Matt Brady said...

I'm not sure if they come from the same root, but I've always considered "noisome" to be synonymous with "annoying".

I know "pedant" is generally used pejoratively (is that a word?), but I thought "pedagogue" was more neutral.

These are always fun.

Roger said...

I don't see how "past 30 years" is tautological--I guess you could say the "last 30 years" but 30 years by itself doesn't signify pastness.

sara d. reiss said...

"Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of presents?"

Jason Powell said...

Dang, Roger beat me to it! Yeah, that "past" one's a little weird. I can see "past history" and "past experience" being redundant.

But am I wrong if I write that "All-Star Superman," which is coming out *presently*, is an even greater achievement than Morrison and Quitely's *past* achievements? Or is that wrong, and I should say "previous" in those types of constructions?

(I would never say anything of the kind, of course. I don't read All-Star Superman!)

Geoff Klock said...

Roger, Jason -- yeah, that was sort of a mistake on my part. Bryson gives a list of "past this and that" examples and he has a quote with the "30 years example" -- I foolishly tried to stick it in the list.

Bryson is thinking of sentences like "He has been working on the book for the past 30 years" where clearly the word past is redundant. Just say "he has been working on the book for 30 years."

Matt Brady said...

I was also going to comment about "past", but then I thought of an example just like the one you gave, Geoff, so I didn't. That makes me feel smart.