Some pleonastic phrases are part of a language's idiom, like "safe haven" and "tuna fish" in English. They are so common that their use is unremarkable, although in many cases the redundancy can be dropped with no loss of meaning.
Pleonastic phrases like "off of" are common in spoken or informal written American English, as in a phrase like "keep the cat off of the couch". In a satellite-framed language like English, verb phrases containing particles that denote direction of motion are so frequent that even when such a particle is pleonastic, it seems natural to include it.
In addition, pleonasms can serve purposes external to meaning. For example, a speaker who is too terse often is interpreted as lacking ease or grace, because, in spoken and signed language, sentences are spontaneously created without the benefit of editing. The restriction on the ability to plan often creates much redundancy. In written language, removing words not strictly necessary sometimes makes writing seem stilted or awkward, especially if the words are cut from an idiomatic expression.
On the other hand, as is the case with any literary or rhetorical effect, excessive use of pleonasm weakens writing and speech; too many words distract from the content. Writers wanting to conceal a thought or a purpose obscure their meaning with verbiage. William Strunk Jr. advocated concision in The Elements of Style, (1918):
There are two kinds of pleonasm: syntactic pleonasm and semantic pleonasm.
In this construction, the conjunction that is optional when joining a sentence to a verb phrase with know. Both sentences are grammatically correct, but the word that is considered pleonastic in this case.
The same phenomenon occurs in Spanish with subject pronouns. Since Spanish is a null subject language, which allows subject pronouns to be deleted when understood, the following sentences mean the same:
In this case, the pronoun yo ("I") is grammatically optional; both sentences mean "I love you" (however, they may not have the same tone or intention—this depends on pragmatics rather than grammar). Such differing but syntactically equivalent constructions, in many language, may also indicate a difference in register.
The process of deleting pronouns is called pro-dropping, and it also happens in many other languages, such as Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, some Slavic languages, and the Lao language. (It may also occur in colloquial English—as when, for example, a husband tells his wife, "Love you," and she replies, "Love you too.")
The pleonastic ne (ne pléonastique) expressing uncertainty in formal French works as follows:
Two more striking examples of French pleonastic construction are the word "aujourd'hui" translated as "today", but originally meaning "on the day of today", and the phrase "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" meaning "What's that?" or "What is it?", while literally it means "What is it that it is?".
When Robert South said, "It is a pleonasam , a figure usual in Scripture, by a multiplicity of expressions to signify one notable thing," he was observing the Biblical Hebrew poetic propensity to repeat thoughts in different words, since written Biblical Hebrew was a comparatively early form of written language and was written using oral patterning, which has lots of pleonasms. In particular, very many verses of the Psalms are split into two halves, each of which says much the same thing in different words. The complex rules and forms of written language as distinct from spoken language were not as well developed as they are today when the books making up the Old Testament were written. See also parallelism (rhetoric).
This same pleonastic style remains very common in modern poetry and songwriting (e.g., "Anne, with her father / is out in the boat / riding the water / riding the waves / on the sea", from Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street").
An expression like "tuna fish", however, might elicit one of many possible responses, such as:
This is a good reason for careful speakers and writers to be aware of pleonasms, especially with cases such as "tuna fish", which is normally used only in some dialects of American English, and would sound strange in other variants of the language, and even odder in translation into other languages.
A similar situation is "ink pen" instead of just "pen" in the southern United States, where "pen" and "pin" are pronounced similarly. Or you could decide to order some "extra accessories" with your new camera.
Note that not all constructions that are typically pleonasms are so in all cases, nor are all constructions derived from pleonasms themselves pleonastic:
Morphemes, not just words, can enter the realm of pleonasm: Some word-parts are simply optional in various languages and dialects. A familiar example to American English speakers would be the allegedly optional "-al-", probably most commonly seen in "publically" vs. "publicly" – both spellings are considered correct/acceptable in American English, and both pronounced the same, in this dialect, rendering the "publically" spelling pleonastic in US English; in other dialects it is "required", while it is quite conceivable that in another generation or so of American English it will be "forbidden". This treatment of words ending in "-ic", "-ac", etc., is quite inconsistent in US English – compare "maniacally" or "forensically" with "stoicly" or "heroicly"; "forensicly" doesn't look "right" in any dialect, but "heroically" looks internally redundant to many Americans (likewise there are thousands of mostly-American Google search results for "eroticly", some in reputable publications, but it does not even appear in the 23-volume, 23,000-page, 500,000-definition Oxford English Dictionary, the largest in the world, meanwhile even American dictionaries give the correct spelling as "erotically"). In a more modern pair of words Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers dictionaries say that "electric" and "electrical" mean exactly the same thing. However, the usual adverb form is "electrically". (For example, "The glass rod is electrically charged by rubbing it with silk.)
Some (mostly US-based) prescriptive grammar pundits would say that the "-ly" not "-ally" form is "correct" in any case in which there is no "-ical" variant of the basic word, and vice versa; i.e. "maniacally", not "maniacly", is correct because "maniacal" is a word, while "publicly", not "publically", must be correct because "publical" is (arguably) not a real word (it does not appear in the OED). This logic is in doubt, since most if not all "-ical" constructions arguably are "real" words and most have certainly occurred more than once in "reputable" publications, and are also immediately understood by any educated reader of English even if they "look funny" to some, or do not appear in popular dictionaries. Additionally, there are numerous examples of words that have very widely-accepted extended forms that have skipped one or more intermediary forms, e.g. "disestablishmentarian" in the absence of "disestablishmentary" (which does not appear in the OED). At any rate, while some US editors might consider "-ally" vs. "-ly" to be pleonastic in some cases, the vast majority of other English speakers would not, and many "-ally" words are not pleonastic to anyone, even in American English.
The most common definitely pleonastic morphological usage in English is "irregardless", which is very widely criticised as being a non-word. The standard usage is "regardless", which is already negative; adding the negative prefix ir- is worse than redundant, becoming oxymoronic as it logically reverses the meaning to "with regard to/for", which is certainly not what the speaker intended to convey. (According to most dictionaries that include it, "irregardless" appears to derive from confusion between "regardless" and "irrespective", which have overlapping meanings.)
The redundancy of these two well-known statements is deliberate, for humorous effect. (See Yogiisms.) But one does hear educated people say "my predictions about the future of politics" for "my predictions about politics", which are equivalent in meaning. While predictions are necessarily about the future (at least in relation to the time the prediction was made), the nature of this future can be subtle (e.g., "I predict that he died a week ago"—the prediction is about future discovery or proof of the date of death, not about the death itself). Generally "the future" is assumed, making most constructions of this sort pleonastic. Yogi Berra's humorous quote above about not making predictions isn't really a pleonasm, but rather an ironic play on words.
Redundancy, and "useless" or "nonsensical" words (or phrases, or morphemes) can also be inherited by one language from the influence of another, and are not pleonasms in the more critical sense, but actual changes in grammatical construction considered to be required for "proper" usage in the language or dialect in question. Irish English, for example, is prone to a number of constructions that non-Irish speakers find strange and sometimes directly confusing or silly:
Seemingly "useless" additions and substitutions must be contrasted with similar constructions that are used for stress, humour or other intentional purposes, such as:
The reader or hearer does not have to be told that loud music has a sound, and in a newspaper headline or other abbreviated prose can even be counted upon to infer that "burglary" is a proxy for "sound of the burglary" and that the music necessarily must have been loud to drown it out. Many are critical of the excessively abbreviated constructions of "headline-itis" or "newsspeak", so "loud [music]" and "sound of the [burglary]" in the above example should probably not be properly regarded as pleonastic or otherwise genuinely redundant, but simply as informative and clarifying.
Prolixity is also used simply to obfuscate, confuse or euphemise, and is not necessarily redundant/pleonastic in such constructions, though it often is. "Post-traumatic stress disorder" (shellshock) and "pre-owned vehicle" (used car) are both tumid euphemisms but are not redundant. Redundant forms, however, are especially common in business, political and even academic language that is intended to sound impressive (or to be vague so as to make it hard to determine what is actually being promised, or otherwise misleading), For example: "This quarter, we are presently focusing with determination on an all-new, innovative integrated methodology and framework for rapid expansion of customer-oriented external programs designed and developed to bring the company's consumer-first paradigm into the marketplace as quickly as possible."
In contrast to redundancy, an oxymoron results when two seemingly contradictory words are adjoined.
These sentences use phrases which mean, respectively, "the the restaurant restaurant", and "the the tar tar". However, many times these redundancies are necessary — especially when the foreign words make up a proper noun as opposed to a common one. For example, "We went to Il Ristorante" is acceptable provided your audience can infer that it is a restaurant (if they understand Italian and English it might likely, if spoken rather than written, be misinterpreted as a generic reference and not a proper noun, leading the hearer to ask "Which ristorante do you mean?" Such confusions are common in richly bi-lingual areas like Montreal or the American Southwest when people mix phrases from two languages at once). But avoiding the redundancy of the Spanish phrase in the second example would only leave you with an awkward alternative: "La Brea pits are fascinating."
Most find it best to not even drop articles when using proper nouns made from foreign languages:
This is also similar to the treatment of definite and indefinite articles in titles of books, films, etc., where the article can — indeed "must" — be present where it would otherwise be "forbidden":
Some cross-linguistic redundancies, especially in placenames, occur because a word in one language became the title of a place in another (e.g. the Sahara Desert—"Sahara" is an English approximation of the word for "deserts" in Arabic). An extreme example is Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria, the name of which is composed of words that essentially mean "hill" in the language of each of the cultures that have lived in the area during recorded history, such that it could be translated as "Hillhillhill Hill". See the List of tautological place names for many more examples.
Acronyms can also form the basis for redundancies; this is known humorously as RAS Syndrome (for Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome):
In all the examples listed above, the word after the acronym repeats a word represented in the acronym—respectively, "Personal Identification Number number", "Automated Teller Machine machine", "Random Access Memory memory", "Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus". (See RAS Syndrome for many more examples.) The expansion of an acronym like PIN or HIV may be well-known to English speakers, but the acronyms themselves have come to be treated as words, so little thought is given to what their expansion is (and "PIN" is also pronounced the same as the word "pin"; disambiguation is probably the source of "PIN number"; "SIN number" for "Social Insurance Number number" [sic] is a similar common phrase in Canada.) But redundant acronyms are more common with technical (e.g. computer) terms where well-informed speakers recognize the redundancy and consider it silly or ignorant, but mainstream users might not, since they may not be aware or certain of the full expansion of an acronym like "RAM".
Some redundancies are simply typographical. For instance, when a short inflexional word like "the" occurs at the end of a line, it is very common to accidentally repeat it at the beginning of the line, and large number of readers would not even notice it.
Carefully constructed expressions, especially in poetry and political language, but also some general usages in everyday speech, may appear to be redundant but are not. This is most common with cognate objects (a verb's object that is cognate with the verb):
Or, a classic example from Latin:
The words need not be etymologically related, but simply conceptually, to be considered an example of cognate object:
Such constructions are not actually redundant (unlike "She slept a sleep" or "We wept tears") because the object's modifiers provide additional information. A rarer, more constructed form is polyptoton, the stylistic repetition of the same word or words derived from the same root:
As with cognate objects, these constructions are not redundant because the repeated words or derivatives cannot be removed without removing meaning or even destroying the sentence, though in most cases they could be replaced with non-related synonyms at the cost of style (e.g., compare "The only thing we have to fear is terror".)
Conversely, to English speakers who do not know Spanish, there is nothing redundant about "the La Brea tar pits" because the name "La Brea" is opaque: the speaker does not know that it is Spanish for "the tar". Similarly, even though scuba stands for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus", a phrase like "the scuba gear" would probably not be considered pleonastic because "scuba" has been reanalyzed into English as a simple adjective, and is no longer used as a noun. (Most do not even know that it is an acronym, and do not spell it SCUBA or S.C.U.B.A. See radar for a similar example.)
The Sunday Poem Every Week Ruth Padel Discusses a Contemporary Poet through an Example of Their Work. No 28 U A Fanthorpe
Jun 20, 1999; Seventy this year, and every collection a best-seller (well, for poetry). She worked as a hospital clerk. Blending compassionate...