Hitherto and Tautologies

I recently wrote an article about an art exhibit for a local newspaper. Having been both an editor and a copy editor for many years (and those of you who are editors, copy editors, and proofreaders know what I’m talking about), it’s admittedly a bit difficult to surrender my copy to someone else, knowing that he or she has the final say on my brilliant exposition. (You CAN see my tongue in my cheek, right?)

In any case, in this article, I used one of my favorite words: hitherto. I’ve already expounded on why I like the word, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read about it here. Hitherto, of course, means up to now or until this time, and my original sentence read Artist names and their works that have hitherto been unfamiliar will become more familiar to those who see this rare exhibit …. The copy editor changed it to Unfamiliar artist names and their works likely are unfamiliar to those who see this rare exhibit. This change seems to me to be a good example of a tautology. A tautology is, according to Merriam-Webster, a needless repetition of a statement, idea, or word. I’ve also seen it defined as circular logic.

Unfamiliar names are unfamiliar. Well, OF COURSE unfamiliar names are unfamiliar. What else could they be? If they’re not unfamiliar, then how could they be unfamiliar? The change was not only incorrect, but it’s also quite embarrassing. Some people who read my work will now view it as sophomoric, undisciplined….and just plain bad. (There’s also an incorrect tense use in their change, but that’s for another post.)

So why am I writing about this? I have two reasons: I thought that readers might like to re-visit my post on hitherto (which also includes the word henceforth), but more important, it’s a good reminder to be very careful when you’re responsible for someone else’s final copy, especially when it’s going to be read by thousands of other people. Mistakes happen, people suffer, and reputations can be ruined.


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4 Responses to Hitherto and Tautologies

  1. Frume Sarah says:

    What an unfortunate change. Your original sentence was just lovely and perfectly captured your sentiment. The reworked version of that sentence is awful.

    You do raise an important point for those of us who have no personal experience as an editor. The final copy may have slight changes that ought not be attributed to the person whose name appears in the byline.


    • languageandgrammar says:

      You’ve echoed the words I spoke when I first read that abomination: hitherto was chosen because it perfectly captured my sentiment.

      We are of like minds. 🙂

  2. Frume Sarah says:

    Clearly the editor understood what you meant so it isn’t as if she (he?) made the change because she (or he) didn’t understand the word.

    Is is permissible in your industry to question a choice? If for no other reason than to better meet the (editor’s) needs of the readers?

    • languageandgrammar says:

      The editor always has the final word—especially when dealing with writers who aren’t as well known. They may question a choice, but they don’t always make the correct choice. As is true with all industries, not every person has the same educational background or level of expertise.

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