Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Cup of Past Experience Runneth Over

The word redundant is the present participle of the Latin verb redundare, which means “to overflow”. There are times when overflow is good, like when your coffers overflow with money. Then there are times when an overflow is bad, like when red wine flows over your glass onto white shag carpeting.

This may come as a surprise to 99.2% of you based on my “extensive” research: the redundant phrase past experience is well entrenched within the English-speaking world.

I googled the phrase past experience, and retrieved 395 million results.

When I added the word “redundant” to my Boolean search, I turned up only 34,300 results.

That tells me that the majority of people using this phrase aren’t aware of that they are using an extra word (“past”) when the word “experience” would stand very well on its own. Only .000008% of English speakers recognize the redundancy.

Examples abound (at least 395 million, apparently), but the top result from the 395 million results came from Science Daily: Past Experience Is Invaluable For Complex Decision Making – and they’re scientists, which is a tribute to this redundancy’s insidious nature.

As I blogged in my Enough Said post, today’s reader tends to have a shorter attention span, so, as writers, we need to present ideas clearly and efficiently.

My advice is to make the phrase “past experience” a thing of the past. The only exception that springs to mind for me is if we were having a mind-altering (or simply convoluted) conversation about our future selves, and we needed to differentiate between experiences gained in the past versus those we have yet to experience.

I invite you to add your thoughts in the comments about any other exceptions that come to mind.

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