Sunday, November 18, 2007

Be looking for a tiny little problem at 12 noon

Are you ready for some language challenges? Whether English is a first or a subsequent language for you, odds are good that you have a long list of redundancies unknowingly engrained in your speech patterns.

You don’t want to say things that are unnecessarily repetitive, do you? Previously in this column we looked at ATM machine and PIN number as popular redundancies. Let’s start today with one that is certain to be part of your everyday speech – tiny little. It was a tiny little cookie; we lived in a tiny little place.

As opposed to what – a BIG little cookie, a huge little place? Obviously, if it’s tiny, it’s little. But you know what? It is somehow … satisfying to lump those two words together, isn’t it? That’s not to say they’re both necessary or that it’s not redundant. I’m just saying, I understand.

Let’s look at another very common redundancy, at this point in time. The comma is there because that’s it – “at this point in time.” It would be enough just to say at this point. Or at this time. You don’t need them both.

Sometimes I’ll translate, saying “at this point in time” means “now.” If that is true, then “at this particular point in time” must mean “right now.”

That probably makes some sense, yes? It makes sense that you would do something simply at this point or at this time. The next one, however, could require some deep thought on your part, and some open-minded thought, at that. Not only because you and the rest of the civilized world have said it forever, but also because its illogic seems, at first glance, logical.

Here it is: 12 noon. Now work with me on this. Your first thought probably is what’s wrong with that? When I respond that there is no 11 noon, no 10 noon, etc., that noon alone is sufficient, you’re likely to think yeah, but there’s a 12 midnight.

I say there should not be. Midnight suffices.

Do you see? Noon is noon, period. Midnight is midnight, period. Drop the 12 from the phrasing and you’re home free.

Finally, let me address one tiny little (so much fun to say) matter of punctuation. Don’t shy away from this; it’s not hard at all. It’s about questions. Are you familiar with questions?

Guess what. Saying “Are you familiar with questions?” was correct with the question mark because it is a question. More important – and the point of this paragraph – is that “Guess what.” correctly did NOT have a question mark.

Guess what is NOT A QUESTION. So every time you see it followed by a question mark (yes – even in well-known newspapers), know that you are staring at a mistake.

If you say “guess what,” you are issuing a command. You are telling someone what you want done. Question marks are meant for questions, not commands.

If we put these all together, we can have: “Guess what? It’s 12 noon so we’ll take a tiny little break at this particular point in time.”



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