Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Local tautologies


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I enjoy reading Tony Deyal, his play on words and his salacious sense of humour. His article "Like a Virgin?" in the Saturday Express of November 4, which dealt with repetitions, tautologies and oxymorons, struck a nerve. It had me thinking about some of our local tautologies.

A very common local tautology is the greeting "pleasant good morning" which is also applied to afternoon, evening and night. The expression is used by persons of all ranks and levels of education, or rather qualifications, as the truly educated person would eschew such a salutation. It is said as one continuous statement, i.e. without a comma after the adjective "pleasant", which is required when more than one adjective qualifies a noun. "Good morning" is really a short version of "I hope you have a good morning" or "I hope you are having a good morning".

A similar salutary sentiment is conveyed when applied to the afternoon and evening. Adding the word "pleasant'' to "good morning'' is superfluous, but if it is to be added for emphasis, strictly speaking, it should be followed by a comma, i.e. if we consider good and morning as two words. However, including the comma is phonetically awkward —it just doesn't sound right. Here I have used a form of repetition but rather explicatively. If, however, we consider "good morning" as one word (as the French "bonjour"), then the tautologous adjective "pleasant" is not too bad, so to speak, syntactically.

While on the topic of these salutations it should be noted that "good evening" is a welcoming greeting in the evening into the night whereas "good night" is used mostly as a parting salutary pleasantry. It is short for "I hope you have a good night" such that in certain places it is even said to colleagues by persons leaving the workplace in the afternoon.

Evening news presenters often start the broadcast with "good evening" and end with "good night". Nevertheless "good night" is often also used as an initial greeting in which case it is not different intentionally from "good morning", which when used in parting is usually dismissive. However "good evening" should not be used as a greeting for the afternoon period as is commonly done locally where the afternoon is erroneously referred to as evening.

As mentioned previously tautologies are used for emphasis. A rather tautologous, popular term used for emphasis is "brand-new", where "brand" is not really necessary but is used to emphasise the newness or pristine nature of a product and is an acceptable term in the sense that it is in standard dictionaries. Another common one in Trinidad and Tobago is the term "personal friend". One can have a good friend, a very good friend but a personal friend? Friendship is a personal relationship so the use of the adjective "personal" to qualify "friend" is syntactically superfluous but not grammatically wrong and is in fact contextually informative in the local context.

The expression has a particular connotation and is used not so much with regard to the personal nature of the relationship, or even its closeness, but rather to emphasise the status of the person who is more than an acquaintance or an "ordinary" friend. It is often used to relate to the friendship of someone of (perceived) importance and/or influence.

Why therefore is "brand new" in the dictionary but "personal friend" is not? It just goes to show that not everything that makes it into the good book (the dictionary, not the Bible) is correct and many others that don't make it are not, reinforcing the view that Standard English is not invariant.

Some tautologies make for useful distinctions. The use of the expression "my own" can be considered tautologous, but is acceptable in that it is useful to distinguish ownership as opposed to simply possession - e.g. "my own home" denotes ownership whereas the unqualified expression "my home" refers to where I live, which may be rented or belong to my parents or some other person(s).

Other tautologies are not acceptable syntactically, such as "so therefore", "the reason is because" etc. A curious one is the term "full comprehensive", an expression that is used locally to refer to the relatively comprehensive nature of insurance cover on motor vehicles.

The word "full" is not only superfluous syntactically and grammatically wrong but it is inaccurate as well. That is why I modify comprehensive with the word "relatively" as so-called comprehensive insurance is hardly ever "full" comprehensive in that there is always an "excess" which is an (initial) amount that is the responsibility of the insured, i.e. it is not covered by the insurance company.

There are many other common local tautologies which will be dealt with in another article. Some are well known to be wrong by most fairly well-educated people, e.g. "more better" (a double comparative). However others, which are grammatically wrong, e.g. "endeavour best", is quite common, even among well qualified and (otherwise) educated people. The word "endeavour" may be used as a verb, meaning "to try'', and as a noun it refers to the act of trying, i.e. the effort, but certainly it is not an adverb, which is the part of speech in the expression "endeavour best". So we can endeavour to do our best but never do our "endeavour best".

• Clément Imbert is Professor of Materials and Manufacturing in UWI's Faculty of Engineering at St Augustine.