Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tolerating redundancies

While working on the edits for a manuscript, I noticed that a source said “11 p.m. at night.” I brought this to the attention of my editor, who asked if this was a direct quote. It was. Her response? We couldn’t touch it. This ruffled my feathers and I started to protest. I wanted to say that you don’t need to say “at night” if you’ve already said “p.m.” Because, obviously, 11 p.m. is at night! However, my editor was firm about not correcting the quote, and I was forced to sit in my chair stewing over the whole thing.

Of course, a reader might see that and wonder why the editor didn’t correct the redundancy. As well it should be corrected! Yet, my editor was right: Because it is a direct quote, we can’t change it. Sure editors change quotes all the time, and leave things out, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. My editor is the kind to play it safe so she won’t be sorry. And the one we have to make sure we don’t rile up is the person who made that quote.

I can only hope that some readers may realize this, may even understand this. Since it is a quote, maybe it would remind some people of how they have made that very mistake a time or two. Surely, someone has been guilty of saying something like “we didn’t eat dinner until 10:00 at night” or “I’ll get the money from the ATM machine.” (A common example seen among writers? “ISBN number.”)

Those examples illustrate two forms of redundancy: Unnecessary words and acronym confusion. As you can see, you don’t need to say “at night” if you’re talking about dinner. People usually eat dinner at night (I have yet to wrap my brain around why people sometimes refer to their breakfast as “supper” – as I’ve always known “supper” to be “dinner.” However, maybe this is an etymological issue). Likewise, “ATM” is “Automated Teller Machine.” So you don’t need to say “machine.”

Redundancies are one of the easiest mistakes writers can make, whether it’s in a book or an article. They are also easy for editors to miss. Characters and sources are allowed some wiggle room with redundancies, because it’s part of human nature to use them. Redundancies tend to creep into our dialogue a time or two, and in this way, it’s a bit easier for me to have some patience with them. Especially when they are part of a quote in one of my books.

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  • At 2:24 AM , Blogger Lillie Ammann said...

    Excellent point, Dawn, except in my family we eat dinner at noon and supper at night. And we don't eat lunch. :-)

  • At 10:49 PM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Lillie! Thank you so much for sharing that! LOL Wow, I never knew how those words could be switched around like that and it's so interesting to know. I'm also thinking this kinda thing can be a cultural or a regional issue. Thank you for commenting. :)


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