I was flying across the country a few days ago, and I paid attention to the recorded safety instructions: “Federal law prohibits tampering with, disabling, or destroying lavatory smoke detectors.”
Tampering with, disabling, or destroying. Do we need all three? Isn’t disabling a form of tampering? Isn’t destroying a whole lot of tampering?
What would we lose if we said, “Federal law prohibits tampering with lavatory smoke detectors”?
Well, nothing if all our passengers speak English.
If we use all three expressions, we increase the odds that a person who does not understand English well will understand one of the words. “Tampering with” is not a phrase I would easily recognize in other languages. But I would recognize “disabling” and “destroying” in at least two others.
So I am going to guess that the triple-word buildup in the airline safety example is used to increase understanding.
But sometimes business writers pile up words for no reason. The other day I read a web page that referred to getting “help, support, and assistance.” Those three words mean the same thing. Choose one!
Sometimes people who take my business writing courses let me know in class prework that they want to “write more concisely, not use so many words.” Happily, by the end of the class, they know how to say it once instead of twice.
In business writing, less is more. The less you write, the more likely it is that your audience will read your message.
What do you think about “tampering with, disabling, or destroying” and other word pileups? Please share your view.