Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Gary from Burt Lake called in to comment on a word that he had encountered while reading a dictionary. The word was pleonasm, and it is used to indicate that a sentence has more words than it needs.

Wordiness is correctly seen as a writing fault, but to be fair, in rhetorical use it is an intentional (even if too elaborate) figure of speech designed to emphasize a point. The web site Silva Rhetoricae gives this as an example: “With these very eyes I saw him do it.” Other terms that cover wordiness are tautology, superfluity, and perissology.

The Bible uses pleonasm as a figure of speech. "Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him" [Gen. 40:23]. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear” [Job 42.5]. “All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth. . . . [Isaiah 18:3]. “The wise men rejoiced with great joy” [Matthew 2:10]. "And it came to pass in those days. . . ." [Mark 1:9].

The pleo- portion comes from a Greek comparative adjective (pleion) that meant more. It shows up in some interesting words.

  • pleochroic: showing different colors when viewed in different crystallographic directions.
  • pleocytosis: the presence of an abnormally high number of white blood cells (usually lymphocytes) in the cerebrospinal fluid.
  • pleodont: A reptile having teeth that are solid rather than hollow.
  • pleomastia: the condition of having more than one nipple per breast.
  • pleonexia: excessive covetousness, avarice, or greed.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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