Tautologies: 'close proximity'

I've just realised that the common phrase 'close proximity' is actually a tautology. After all, 'proximity' means "nearness in space, time or relationship" (Concise OED), so 'close proximity' is akin to 'close nearness'.

Should I, as a sub, remove 'close proximity' from copy? On the one hand, it is tautological and more verbose than 'proximity', 'nearness' and 'closeness'; on the other, it is in common use and probably offends few people.

15 comments:

lynneguist said...

...or a pleonasm.

The thing about 'close proximity' is that it's so idiomatic that plain 'proximity' doesn't sound as natural!

Icedink said...

It is tautology but, to take up the previous commenter's point, the important thing is to make copy relaxed and readable, take the effort out of it. A fine judgment. Think I'd take out the "close" if I wanted to save a line - the usual catch-all.

FBT said...

Something can be near or very near. Likewise something could display proximity or close proximity?

Jon Boy said...

In my opinion, tautologies and pleonasms are not technically errors. If you're pressed for space, they're an easy target for cutting, but I don't see any reason to remove them as a matter of habit. Why give readers the bare minimum they need to piece together the meaning? As fbt points out, the extra word adds something.

JD said...

Tautologies amuse me rather than offend me. But do they offend any of the readers of the (somewhat conservative) publication I work for?

All things being equal, I try to avoid tautologies, split infinitives etc in order not to upset a minority of picky readers.

But I suppose that the key is in knowing when avoiding these things would make copy less "relaxed and readable".

And I like fbt's point. Not sure it's that clear cut, but wish it was.

rpmason said...

I'd leave it. Unless you can replace it with 'near' or 'close', or some such simple phrase, it's fine. Using "in proximity to" to replace it would seem even more out of place.

garik said...

Tautologies are a funny thing. One way to think of them is in terms of the massive amount of redundancy in human language. For example, languages with grammatical gender often require adjectives to agree with the noun — yet this is, in almost all situations, entirely unnecessary. The English requirement to add an -s to the end of verbs in the third person singular (in the present simple) is another example. Any language could survive quite happily with "The weatherman say it's raining." In fact, several varieties of English do very well without it.

Redundancy is certainly useful for listeners — they don't have to do as much work in interpreting an utterance if information is provided in more than one place. That said, it's somewhat questionable how much this matters, particularly in the case of grammatical gender: what is the point of grammatical gender anyway? But the processing gain may well be just enough that redundancy gets selected for, particularly as talk is pretty cheap.

It's also worth pointing out that tautological phrases are frequently a combination of a very familiar word and a rather less familiar one (e.g. close proximity, general consensus). Some are a combination of a word in a foreign language and its translation into the language in use (e.g. River Avon, Sahara Desert, Chai tea, the hoi polloi). So we can probably assume that people initially, perhaps subconsciously, add an explanatory word to clarify a less well known word, and that this useful combination gets adopted and ingrained, so it's used even in circumstances where everyone can be expected to be familiar with what "proximity" or "consensus" means.

In journalism (and much other writing), as everyone's said, there's definitely something to be said for familiarity and ease of reading. In some writing, however, phrases can even benefit from being skewed slightly towards the unfamiliar. Though many scientists would be surprised to hear that plain proximity doesn't sound natural.

garik said...

so we can probably assume that people initially, perhaps subconsciously, add an explanatory word to clarify a less well known word, and that this useful combination gets adopted and ingrained, so it's used even in circumstances where everyone can be expected to be familiar with what "proximity" or "consensus" means.

Yeah, please send prizes for "most blindingly obvious comment" to garics.blogspot.com...

JD said...

Garik: ooh, didn't know / totally forgot you had your own blog. Am meaning to comment on a couple of your scribblings – but do write more!

TootsNYC said...

"Proximity" by itself doesn't mean as close as "close proximity" does.

"In close proximity to my home" would be about 2 blocks away, no farther. "In proximity to my home" would be the Jackson Heights neighborhood, but not Woodside, Elmhurst, or Corona.

The Ridger, FCD said...

FWIW, the "point" of grammatical gender is the syntactical structures it permits and the ambiguity it removes. Dangling modifiers (for example) are very rare in Russian because the gender marker on the participle shows precisely which noun is its.

garik said...

Sadly I haven't contributed to my blog for ages, JD. I must get into the habit of contributing regularly.

On grammatical gender: Well, as I said, the processing gain (i.e. the removal of ambiguity) may be enough for redundancy to be selected for. But it's a small gain: we can tolerate a fair amount of ambiguity, and English doesn't seem to suffer from the lack of grammatical gender. I'm much more inclined to think that grammatical gender in a language like French is really vestigial, in the way that a human appendix is. It may perhaps perform some small function (as, some think, the appendix does), but that function isn't the reason it evolved in the first place; and we get by fine without it.

As for Russian: plenty of dangling modifiers are possible that don't have gender marking to resolve them. Russian gerunds, for example, are genderless.

goofy said...

Once you start looking for redundancy in language you find it everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Those that argue that proximity alone implies a nearness THOUGH "further away" by the use of obscure neighbourhood examples might consider whether the usage of "far" or "distant" proximity exists. And if not, why not?

Proximity ALONE implies closeness/nearness and doesn't need to be augmented.

dkny said...

wow! thanks for the educational information!! oops, did i just create another tautology?!? :) nice blog by the way... keep it up!! cheers...