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Opinion: Redundant phrases and why we should avoid using them

By Alexander Chagema | June 4th 2018
President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenya’s political climate still has some ‘electric charge’ from the high-voltage campaigns that drove the 2017 General Election.

Caught between the magnetic field generated by the Opposition and Jubilee Party, President Uhuru Kenyatta is a harassed man. Walking the middle line is impossible, so Uhuru finds himself being forcefully pulled to one side at one point, then to the other at the next.

The media is always on hand to give the public a blow-by-blow account of his movements, and how best he will carry out the balancing act with the weight of Kenyans on his shoulders.

However, coming only days after the he appeared to scold the Opposition for possibly taking the March 9 ‘handshake’ out of context, a recent newspaper headline that read “Uhuru spanks Ruto, says handshake with Raila OK” serves as a double entrende.

To refresh, a double entrende is “the ambiguity of meaning arising from language that lends itself to more than one interpretation or a word or expression capable of two interpretations, with one usually risqué”.

Not only was that headline inappropriate juxtaposed with the real story, there was no symbiosis with the introductory part of the story that read, “President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday threw a jibe at DP William Ruto and accused him of loitering across the country.”


There is nothing wrong with the grammatical aspect of the sentence; it is the implied that does not add up. Even if the word ‘spank’, which means to slap with one’s open hand or a flat object, especially on the buttocks as a punishment, was to be used figuratively, it did not capture the real situation as it was.

‘Jibe’ carries several meanings, among them; taunt, insulting or mocking remark. Given our touchiness, the choice of words, erroneously used as they were, could cause offence in some quarters.

Given the Presidents jocular manner at the time, it is inconceivable that he was taunting, mocking or even insulting his deputy.While ‘jibe’ also means to ‘agree with’, the context in which it was used negates that application. In short, the words one uses to convey a message could serve to mess up the delivery, no matter how well intentioned.

Within the text, a translation of what the President said in Kiswahili read: “This young man Ruto loiters aimlessly everywhere.” The dictionary definition of ‘loiter’ is to move with no apparent purpose, and so is the meaning of ‘aimlessly’. Thus, to use the two in sequence is tautological.

Tautology (wordiness or redundant phrases) refers to saying the same thing using different words that do not add value to the sentence. You can think of any number of wordy expressions that we come across daily, for example, ‘I personally saw her’. ‘Personally’ merely repeats what has been expressed by the word ‘I’.  


Some of the redundant phrases may be quite difficult to spot. Here are examples: “The unsolved mystery of Goldenberg’, ‘Short summary of the main events that will take place today’, “He received a free gift from the good Samaritan’ and ‘New innovations will revolutionise how we transact business”. Also “My first priority is to find a good-paying job in Nairobi”, “First and foremost, this meeting is about managing finances”, “In my opinion, I think that you are wrong.”

A ‘mystery’ is something that is unsolved; a ‘summary’ is the short form of a long narration, while a ‘gift’ is something that is given free. ‘Innovations’ are new things and ‘priority’ is what comes first in order of importance, while ‘foremost’ basically means first. What you ‘think’ is your opinion. The list could go on, but this will suffice to drive the message home.

Besides tautology, the word ‘that’ is often used unnecessarily in sentences. For example: “ He hoped that he could catch the last train home”, “He was pleased that his team won the prestigious trophy”, “He recovered the money that he lost in the bet”, “I am convinced that our car is stronger.”

In all these sentences, the word ‘that’ is redundant as the sentences would still be clear without it.

Finally, let’s consider the sentence; “I am convinced our car is stronger”. It lacks something, for the word ‘stronger’ is a comparative; a word used in making a comparison. Ideally, therefore, “than yours/theirs” should qualify the initial clause.


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