News from the Department of Redundancy Department

September 4th, 2006 by Bob Bly

The other day I heard a radio commercial that began: “If you have a car you no longer need or have little use for….”

Would you, like me, delete the phrase “or have little use for” as being unnecessary and redundant?

Along the same lines, grammarians point out that the popular copywriting phrase “free gift” is redundant, because all gifts are by definition free … and these grammarians urge copywriters to just write “gift.”

Do you agree with them? Or will you stick with “free gift” in your promotions? Why? (I’d ask “Or why not?” but grammarians insist that the “why not” option is implied when you ask “why.”)

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 4th, 2006 at 1:06 pm and is filed under General, Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 responses about “News from the Department of Redundancy Department”

  1. Howard McEwen said:

    I was once very strick about such things but realize language – especially English – evolves and changes and that’s part of it’s beauty.

    A high school English teacher use to use the world “awful” in the classic “full of awe” sense. As in looking on the face of God. Everybody reading it misunderstood it. While he may be correct, it was just stupid.

    Change with the times;roll with it.

  2. Martin Matheny said:

    With respect to the “If you have a car…” copy, I don’t know that I’d write that copy anyway. Seems a skosh awkward. I might have gone with “If you have a car, you may have little or no use for…”

    With respect to free gifts, I’m going to still use “free” in conjunction with “gift,” unless space limitations are so severe that I absolutely cannot fit it in. Here’s hoping I never face space limitations that bad.

    All gifts are by their nature free, say the grammarians. I don’t know about that, at least from the standpoint of popular perception. If I go out and buy my girlfriend an obscene amount of cosmetics, I’m going to get a “free” tote bag or some other geegaw. Is it really free? My perception is that I’m paying for it, since the promo cost is padded into the cosmetics’ cost. I think a lot of other consumers would (at least subconsciously) feel the same way.

    From the writer’s perspective, I think “free” draws the eye more effectively than “gift.” I’ve got no research to back this up, but I think this may be a case where good usage and good marketing diverge, even if only a little.

    Just my $0.02, though. Since most of my work is for political candidates, I’m not in the business of writing about gifts (free or otherwise) very often.

    I yield to wiser (and published) heads.

  3. Nigel Gordijk said:

    I agree that the word “Free!” jumps out more than “Gift”.

    As for moving with the times and allowing language to evolve, it is becoming more difficult to know where to draw the line about what is an acceptable change. I’m British, so I use “English” English. However, I do a lot of business with Canadian clients and I often have spelling in documentation or email messages “corrected” by them. What makes it worse is that Canadian English seems to be half way between usage in England and the US; I read several American magazines and, of course, most of the Web’s content originates from the US.

    Should I stick with using English the way I was taught, write for a Canadian audience (difficult, because Microsoft Word doesn’t allow me to differentiate between more than one dictionary) or bow to online peer pressure by using American English?

    Just don’t get me started on the spelling of “aluminium” or “aluminum”…

  4. Solo Business Marketing said:

    I’ve used the words “gift” and “complimentary” in my marketing campaigns, but the word “free” is the one that moves my readers to take action.

    It seems that most people are conditioned to understand the meaning of “free” more than other words. I’m not sure if this norm will ever change.

  5. Craig Hysell said:

    I never understood arguing the fine points of grammar. Will the reader understand, be entertained, motivated or intrigued by what you write? If you get your message across the way you intended, then of what concern does it make in how it is said in terms of proper word or punctuation usage?

    The message is and always will be the most important aspect to writing, especially writing to sell.

    Hell, a little redundancy might even help in a world where attention spans move at the speedy click of a mouse or remote.

    Free Gift? What’s free? A gift. What’s the gift? Read further…
    Receive a Gift! Already lost my attention, sounds like I have to do something, kinda long to read… click.

  6. Bob Bly said:

    Craig: I understand with and basically agree with your view, but the argument in favor of using proper grammar is this: if you use poor grammar, it will cause some of your prospects to think you are sloppy, stupid, or both — and they will not want to do business with you as a result.

  7. Craig Hysell said:

    Bob: I agree one hundred percent. But there is a big difference between poor grammar and arguing those many, many fine little points that frumpy grammarians consistently like to point out. That is where, I believe, we prima donna writers who produce clear messages have a point. Cheers.

  8. Jill Ann Bal said:

    I’m new at all this, but I think I will stick with using “free” in front of “gift”. The word free can catch a person’s attention easily whether hearing it on the radio or finding it on the web. Like many low-budget professionals, I sometimes use a word-search to help me find “free” things on the web. Such a powerful search word could bring more visitors to your client’s website.

    Personally, I don’t think any sales related gift is truly free because they all seem to require something from the person responding to the ad (i.e. “come on down”, “just fill this out”, etc). So actually the term “free gift” when used in a sales pitch sounds more like an oxymoron than a redundancy.

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