While critiquing a certain document, I noticed frequent instances of a kind of wordiness. Whereas I could have simply corrected each instance, I wanted to cite for the writer a general rule for recognizing and correcting such instances on his own. The closest I was able to find was "syntactic pleonasm," but none of the examples I could find online matched these cases exactly. I wished to ask the community here whether I had found the correct category, just minus the examples I wanted, or whether there were a better general categorization for instances such as the following:

Example 1:

... each of the paths has its own advantages ...

... each path has its own advantages ...

Example 2:

... a disease factor that is related to exposure ...

... a disease factor related to exposure ...

Example 3:

... a result that signifies excessive cost ...

... a result signifying excessive cost ...

EDIT: I appreciate that examples 2 and 3 are instances of that-dropping and thus covered by other questions, but my question is specifically about the name of the category of defects to which such instances belong. I wish to know whether the correct name of the category of defects is syntactic pleonasm, and, if not, the correct name of the category.

  • possible duplicate of Are there rules about using "that" to join two clauses? – anongoodnurse May 19 '15 at 16:15
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    It's simply "that" dropping, which does have rules. See duplicate. – anongoodnurse May 19 '15 at 16:18
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    “Defects”? They are no such thing. They are syntactic and rhetorical tools that, like any other, can be overused. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 20 '15 at 10:05
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    @Reb.Cabin Well, for one thing, if your examples were juxtaposed with negated counterparts, they become almost mandatory: “A disease factor which is related to exposure is easier to identify than one which is not”, for example. Remove the which is’s and you will certainly not be doing the sentence any favours. My point was mainly that ‘noise’ (non-essential information) is not necessarily a bad thing in language and does not automatically equal ‘defects’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 20 '15 at 18:16
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    Yes, it is a syntactic pleonasm, or at least the wiki article agrees that 'that' is redundant. I think of 'pleonasm' as only about a semantic disfluency; dropping 'that' as simply an syntactic option. – Mitch May 21 '15 at 12:03

Periphrastic adj

periphrasis n.

: use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression. MW


I don't have a name for it, but I know the phenomenon all too well from decades of translating. In that particular culture, they would take it further, and rather than the equivalent of "The East is red" they would write "The East is a colour that is red", or even, "With respect to its colour, the East is a colour that is red".

As a critic of wordiness, what would you say about the author of this sentence: "With respect to the oil rig, the pricing of the oil rig was priced in the order of magnitude of ten million dollars"? Translated literally from source language, the author would have given me grief otherwise. I don't have a label, Mr. Reb. Cabin, but I have a diagnosis if you want to hear it. The prognosis for getting such writers to "recognise and correct" follows therefrom.

  • I would definitely like to hear your diagnosis and prognosis. I had no idea that this kind of circumlocution would be so attractive and could get so purposefully elaborate. It seems as though there is an intentional euphemization of the utterly mundane, as if to avoid making any statement at all. Is this just "plausible deniability" on steroids? There is obviously much more going on here than I imagined, and your examples put mine to shame! – Reb.Cabin May 19 '15 at 15:49
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    No, I am barking up a different tree to "plausible deniability". I am convinced that my examples anyway are the half-educated person's attempt to impress others and himself. Plus gormless sloppiness, in that they start with an unnecessary "As regards (subject)..." and don't know how to continue, never having learned to parse, and so repeat. Prognosis is that it's terminal. They see merely that you and I use fewer words and are therefore inferior; the style will end only with the death of its perp. – David Pugh May 19 '15 at 16:06
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    Sadly true, I think. It's in the same vein as using a long word when a short one will do. I work with someone who's in love with the word "articulating," which he uses when he means "saying." Also in my workplace, they love to "state" things rather than "say" them. I'm not sure why just saying something is somehow inadequate or inferior to stating or articulating it, but it apparently is. To them, plain, clear language indicates a lack of importance. Can we point these people to George Orwell's essay on politics and language use? – Sarah M. May 19 '15 at 17:35
  • @Sarah: "they know not, and know not that they know not". Nothing can be done with people who use language for self-importance. (Did you catch that character a couple of weeks back whom Mary-Lou proved to me was a troll? Made Dr. Johnson look like Hemingway.) Tell your colleagues that articulating is for peasants, some of us adumbrate. – David Pugh May 19 '15 at 17:46
  • @David: Ah yes, adumbration is what all the best people are doing (I'm sure they're doing it very discretely, behind closed doors, because they are so very refined). Alas, I did not catch your prolix troll. – Sarah M. May 19 '15 at 20:40

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