I was just reading an article in The Guardian about spurious concerns over the decline in the English language. It quotes the British broadcaster John Humphrys who complains about instances of tautology such as these:
- future plans
- past history
- live survivors
- safe havens
In each case, the adjective is redundant: history is about the past, so there is no need to add 'past'; if survivors are not alive, they are not survivors; etc. My own favourite is 'free gift' — if gifts are not free, then they are not gifts.
Some examples I previously found in the Borneo Bulletin include:
- a good facilitator and enabler for the market
- enhance and upgrade my skills
- determine and evaluate the impact
However, is it true that English is getting increasingly flabby, embellished by unnecessary extra words, thereby losing its compact crispness in conveying information efficiently? Or have we always had tautology? And is it true that Brunei English exhibits this tendency even more than other varieties of English, perhaps influenced by the rhetorical style of Malay?
I always recommend that students avoid tautology and eschew phrases such as 'analyse and investigate'. It is always important to think about one's writing and endeavour to improve it; but I'm not sure that English is getting sloppier. We have always had good writers and bad writers, and it is my job as a teacher to encourage my students to become good writers. But I don't believe that the overall standard of writing is deteriorating.