Pleonasmus is a stylistic device and a rhetorical figure. As pleonasmen, we refer to the repetition of meaningless, but different, words. The stylistic figure thus occurs when, in a group of words, a certain content is expressed several times and in different ways. Pleonasmus can be interpreted as a stylistic device, but also as a stylistic defect.
The word pleonasmus can be derived from the Greek (πλεονασμóς pleonasmós) and means “overflow”. This translation sums up quite well what the style figure has in itself. After all, in the pleonas several words are lined up, all of which mean the same thing. These words do not provide additional information to the reader. Let’s look at an example.
He rode a black horse
The above example shows that a male person rides a horse. By definition, a horse is a black horse of any breed. Thus, the adjective “black” is completely superfluous, because in principle it provides no additional information. Thus the set is doubly doubled and a popular example of pleonasmus (similar to the white mold).
Note: We therefore always have to deal with pleonas when linguistic means are used which do not provide any additional information on what has been said so far (redundancy)
Hint: The plural (plural) of the stylistic figure is, by the way, expressed with the word pleonasms and is not, as frequently assumed and written, expressed by “pleonasmus”.
Pleonasms and archaisms
Pleonasmus, on the other hand, can be used consciously as stylistic means, but also the sign of bad style or less rhetorical abilities.
In this respect, however, we have to distinguish in so far as the meaning of a word is no longer clear or wholly in use. In this context we speak of archaisms. The word uncle is, for example, an Arachaism for the degree of uncle’s degree, and only a few speakers are familiar and not very common.
There are, therefore, words which are pleonasms and yet are not counted among them. As an example, the word foot pedal can apply. In principle, the word is derived from the Latin pedalis, which roughly means “belonging to the foot”. Foot pedal is thus a pleonasmus.
However, the few speakers know the original meaning of the word pedal, which is why we have to differentiate. If the original meaning of a word is not accessible to speech, the expression can not be understood as pleonasmus. A further example of such an archaic pleonasmus is cipher number (French chiffre = numeral) or glass display case (glass display case).
Note: In principle, all sentence constructions can be identified as pleonasms, which group together several words which are semantically identical and do not provide any additional information. Nevertheless, the context must always be considered for a clear attribution.
Pleonasmus as a fixed expression
If, however, the original meaning of a word moves farther and farther into the distance, we can even take the pleonasmus into our everyday language.
There are also numerous examples of pleonasms in German which do not provide any additional information in the actual word. Nevertheless, we use them, since the original meaning of the individual parts of the word does not appear to us to be very common.
Fixed Pleonasms in German
Nozzle jet (jet nozzle)
Pulse beat (lat. Pulseus beat)
La-Ola wave (span. La ola ~ the wave)
clammy (lat. clam ~ secretly)
Gift for free
Effect and Function of Pleonasmus
If the pleonasmus is interpreted not only as a rhetorical weakness, and the speaker makes an error, it also has an effect or function.
This effect of pleonasmus can best be described by the word effect, since the stylistic figure can effect something in reading and has a decisive influence on the reader. Above all in speeches we find numerous figures, which could in principle manipulate the listener.
The pleonasm can enormously intensify the statement of a word and the meaning of the word and put it in the foreground. Due to the doubling of the content, the statement is strongly concentrated.
However, pleonastic constructions that do not have a rhetorical background as bad style, style break, or even style blossoms.
The counterpart to pleonasmus is the ellipse, while the stylistic device of tautology can be used almost synonymously to the pleonamus. However, the pleonasmus must be clearly distinguished from the Hendiadyoin.
The logical counterpart to pleonasmus is the Oxymor