Theft, consent and tautology
Another day and every regional newspaper in the country is replete with examples of one of its mainstays – reports of criminal cases being processed through the local courts of justice.
The details of one case in particular on the Bristol Live (formerly the Bristol Post. Ed.) website caught my eye for one single sentence.
In the relevant sentence we are told that the defendant*
stole his dad’s car keys without consent last October.
I have never before heard of an item being stolen with its owner’s consent, so let’s examine that sentence in detail.
We are told the defendant “stole his dad’s car keys“.
The dictionary definition of the verb to steal is “to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force“. That definition includes the words without permission, i.e. without consent.
The lack of consent is implicit in verb’s definition, hence the qualification without permission is superfluous.
This brings us to another concept with which the author of the piece in question will be unfamiliar: tautology, i.e. “needless repetition of an idea, especially in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness“.
To some it may seem that I’m being overly pedantic, but as a linguist I’m all too aware that words matter as they are the only tools we have to convey meaning and in being the main source of information the press has a duty to use them properly.
* = Name omitted as having his name pop up once for a youthful misdemeanour in search engine results is enough without my adding to his woes.
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