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When talking about food, to me, the word "portion" refers to the size of a serving, so to say "We should be eating smaller portion sizes" is redundant. It should be, "We should be eating smaller portions."

Although, I suppose you could say something like, "My portion has has more onion." In this case, you clearly don't mean "The size of my serve has more onion," and the word 'portion' is referring to your serve in general, rather than just the size of it.

That said, the phrase "portion size" still doesn't seem right to me. Is this tautology, or something a bit more subtle?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

In the senses that could be relevant, a portion is 'a part of any whole; an individual’s or group’s part or share of something; a serving of food intended for or served to one person'. (Different dictionaries will offer slightly different versions, but these are representative.) In any of these senses a portion can be large or small, so it makes perfectly good sense to talk about the size of a portion and hence, by a normal English process of compounding, about portion size(s). In particular, portion size is in no sense tautological.

You’re absolutely right, however, in thinking that sizes in ‘We should be eating smaller portion sizes’ is redundant (once portion is changed to portions. Still, ‘We should be eating portions of smaller size’, while both verbose and redundant, isn’t actually wrong. The real problem with ‘We should be eating smaller portion sizes’, at least for me, is that we don’t eat sizes at all: we eat portions!

(By the way, the food served to one person is a serving, not a serve.)

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I think your last point is spot on. For example, "the portions are of a large size," is fine, but "the portion sizes are large" seems wrong. It's the portion that is large, rather than the property of size that is large. It would be equivalent to saying, "the size of the portion in large," which IMO is subtly incorrect in the same way. The difference seems more obvious with a verb (eg you eat the portion, not its property), but less so when you're applying a description to the property. –  Cam Jackson Aug 22 '11 at 7:24
    
Actually, serving is a helping ("An individual portion or helping of food or drink"); so in a more specific and precise sense, serving is the food given or taken by a single person in one action (therefore second serving makes sense). –  Unreason Aug 22 '11 at 9:21
    
@CamJackson I don't think it's wrong to say that a property, such as size, is large or small, in the sense that large can mean a greater number, and a number can often represent a property of something. Though it may be odd, I would still consider it correct to say that a circuit has a large current. –  Samthere Aug 22 '11 at 10:20
    
@Samthere Hmmm, I agree with your example, but I would argue that a current is a thing in its own right, rather than just a property of a circuit (obviously a property is a noun, so this is all very subjective), so you could say it is large. But I think I'm probably splitting hairs. Either way, 'large portion size' just bugs me :P –  Cam Jackson Aug 22 '11 at 12:39

I don't think that the phrase portion size is redundant. A portion is a part of something:

  1. a part of any whole, either separated from or integrated with it: I read a portion of the manuscript.
  2. an amount of food served for one person; serving; helping: He took a large portion of spinach.

The word size modifies portion--you can have a large portion, a small portion, a double portion--so to say portion size refers to the size of that given portion.

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"We should be eating smaller portion sizes" is not so much redundant as nonsensical: you cannot eat a size. "Eating a smaller portion" does make sense, because in this context "portion" means "portion of food", and you can eat food, whether it is dished out in portions or extruded continuously from a mixing machine.

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