I was reading an article on dailywritingtips.com called Let the Word Do the Work about redundancy.
The author, Maeve Maddox, does a great job making her point with examples of the more common redundancies we run into – such as “free gift”– as well as some more subtle examples, like “maroon-colored.” (Only when someone could mistake the color name for something else do you even consider adding the –colored. Since the only thing maroon can be is a color, there’s no need to say more.) I also really appreciated the concept that just because one word is good, two is not necessarily better. However, the writer’s inner grammar Nazi did strike me as a little much in some instances.
Why a Free Gift?
If it’s a gift, then it’s free right? So the term is redundant. However, what about the ever popular “gift with purchase” so common at makeup counters and late-night TV? While you are not paying extra for the stuff, it is not really free. (While I cannot confirm this, I once heard that some countries have out-lawed “gift-with-purchase” for just that reason.)
The Army Soldier
The first definition of soldier, as provided by my great friend dictionary.com, is “a person who serves in an army; a person engaged in military service.”
So, technically, an “army soldier” is redundant. Yet, I think it is fairly safe to say that most people think of soldiers in the more general sense expressed in the second part of the definition. In that case, an “army soldier” is a person engaged in military service – specifically the army.
OK, so definition one of nursery is, “a room or place set apart for young children.” So, a “baby nursery” is only slightly redundant technically. (Sorry, young children does not equal baby.) It is, however, very redundant culturally. UNLESS, that is, you are a plant person. In that case, your brain might jump directly to definition three, “a place where young trees or other plants are raised for transplanting, for sale, or for experimental study.” For plant-people, “baby” may be a required adjective to get their minds out of the dirt.
In the End
I believe that it is better to be a grammar geek instead of a full fledged grammar Nazi. Language either evolves or dies, we cannot be so strict enforcing yesterday’s rules because they really may not apply tomorrow.
Unless, of course, we’re talking about the Oxford comma. But, that is a rant for a different post.