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I have seen tautology with my own eyes

They call us the “grammar Nazis” – people who apparently consider themselves to be superior to others who fail to grasp the subtleties of punctuation and tautology.

Fascinating, isn’t it, that wanting things to be written correctly generates such aggression and downright nastiness…? By insisting on quality, consistency and accuracy you are – no less – showing appalling snobbery and stifling creativity. I’m sorry, but it is this kind of thinking that has created several generations who simply do not know how to express themselves properly, let alone spell.

There will come a time, it seems inevitable, when “I would of”, “I don’t want to loose you” and “you was” will become so commonplace that they will become interchangeable with correct usage. But until then, those of us who insist on punctuating our text messages and even correcting Facebook postings make no apology for our actions.

Okay, teenagers who have been failed by the education system – whose teachers think “definate” and “seperate” are correct – can be excused for not meeting the highest editorial standards. But when you see so-called ‘quality’ newspapers littered with errors and outfits like the BBC making howler after howler, those of us who think this kind of thing is important can only hold our heads in our hands.

It would be too long a blog to list all the cock-ups that supposedly professional journalists make on a daily basis so I will single out just one current pet hate – the repetition of phrases that mean the same thing because the point is clearly not strong enough with just the one.

The incredibly annoying practice I am referring to – and I hear this all over the place, which is cause for serious concern – is to use “also”, “as well” or “too” in the same sentence, often with just a couple of words between them. The most recent example was a BBC journalist the other day who not only answered every question from the anchor with an initial “absolutely” (God, how that word is overused) but also committed the cardinal sin of saying: “And this farm is also flooded as well.”

If you weren’t aware of it before, hopefully you will be now and will notice the countless times this error is made. Not just journalists but people in the street, family members, TV presenters, company executives… the background and discipline are irrelevant; it would appear that just about everyone is falling into this lazy trap.

The rule is simple – you need either one or the other but not both. “And this farm is also flooded” would be fine as would “And this farm is flooded as well” but not both “also” and “as well”.

It would seem that such repetition is used to strengthen the sentence but there are a billion ways the English language allows you to emphasise your point without blatant repetition of words. What amazes me is that these people cannot hear themselves making this mistake. Where is the editor having a word in the journalist’s ear: “You do realise you keep saying ‘absolutely’, don’t you?” or “You really need to stop repeating the same phrases over and over” (note the tautology in that sentence)?

The good news is that those of us who think good grammar is important and accuracy is essential are in more demand than ever by those who do not consider a stickler for quality to be some kind of bully.

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Rory Baxter, owner of The Word Factory, has decades of experience as a writer, editor, and public relations practitioner.

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