Redundant
Posted: 06 August 2007 04:25 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Question for those over in Rightpondia:

Can redundant be used to mean “no longer serviceable”? I know that to make someone redundant is British slang meaning to fire them from a job, but can the term be used to apply to machinery and other things?

I just heard an ITN news report on obtaining potable water in India and the British correspondent said “the pumps provided by the government are redundant.” To US ears, that means that they have more than enough pumps, rather than not enough.

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Posted: 06 August 2007 06:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Dave Wilton - 06 August 2007 04:25 PM

Question for those over in Rightpondia:

Can redundant be used to mean “no longer serviceable”? I know that to make someone redundant is British slang meaning to fire them from a job, but can the term be used to apply to machinery and other things?

Such a usage would raise no eyebrows in NZ English for sure. What would raise eyebrows is the description of “make redundant” as “slang” for “terminate employment”. Do USns really think that this is UK slang? Certainly the contexts and registers in which it is used do not fit the common concept of “slang”.

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Posted: 06 August 2007 09:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Redundancy for unemployment would not be considered slang in the UK, nor does the OED so mark it.

Redundancy, 2b

b. The condition of having more staff in an organization than is necessary. Hence, the state or fact of losing a job because there is no further work to be done; a case of unemployment due to reorganization, mechanization, loss of orders, etc.

[ Edited: 07 August 2007 12:53 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 06 August 2007 10:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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the British correspondent said “the pumps provided by the government are redundant.” To US ears, that means that they have more than enough pumps, rather than not enough.

That’s certainly what it conveys to my (British) ears, too.

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Posted: 06 August 2007 10:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Disagree!
Redundant does not mean “no longer serviceable”, it means (as dictionary quotes have indicated) unnecessary because the function is already filled. Pumps that are no longer serviceable do not work. Pumps that are redundant may work perfectly but are not needed.
There are many reasons why people may lose their jobs. Being made redundant is not synonymous with getting fired or losing your job.

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Posted: 07 August 2007 12:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I edited my previous post. I gave the impression that the phrase in question would convey ‘not enough pumps’. It doesn’t, and I don’t think it would to any British ear. It would simply be understood that the pumps were not needed, for whatever reason.

[ Edited: 07 August 2007 12:55 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 07 August 2007 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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To clarify, in the news story the “redundant” pumps were for deep wells and not in use (they didn’t mention a reason, but I assumed they did not work). There were working pumps on shallow wells, but these were pumping from a contaminated aquifer. So in one sense the “redundant” pumps were superfluous, although they were actually needed quite desperately. The word made little sense to my ears. It could end up being simply a bad choice of words on the part of the correspondent.

My understanding of “make redundant” in the UK is that it originally meant to lay someone off because their position had become superfluous, but that it had morphed in meaning to become a euphemism for firing someone or letting them go for whatever reason. I get this from sitcoms like The Office.

And I new it wasn’t exactly slang, but I was having trouble coming up with a descriptor. Perhaps business jargon or business speak would be better.

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Posted: 07 August 2007 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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If what the correspondent really meant was that the pumps weren’t working, or were the wrong kind for the job, then “redundant” is certainly not the right word to cover either situation.

In the UK, sacking an employee is now a very difficult and long-drawn-out process; unless they are obliging enough to commit some truly spectacular and criminal misconduct meriting summary dismissal you have to go through a long and painful process involving verbal warnings, written warnings and so on. And at the end of it, the employee can take you to an industrial tribunal and if you haven’t carried out every single aspect of the process perfectly they can take you to the cleaners. For this reason many employers prefer to reorganise the workplace in such a way that the problem employee’s job becomes (however technically) redundant. Redundancy carries with it a compensation payment meant to ease the period of looking for another job, and, of course, no blot on the worker’s record, so most problem employees will go quietly if offered it, and employers reckon the money is well spent.

So redundancy is indeed routinely used as a legal ploy for getting rid of workers you don’t want, but it still is not the same as sacking them. The very availability of fig-leaves such as “redundancy” or “ill-health retirement” have made actual sackings a relatively rare and dramatic event.

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Posted: 07 August 2007 10:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Isn’t the term “redundant” also used to describe backup computer systems such as in the space program, meaning more are in place than needed in case of failure of the primary system ?

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Posted: 08 August 2007 12:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Could not “the pumps provided by the government are redundant.” mean that they are redundant for government use, i.e. government-owned pumps surplus to the government’s requirement?
There is also an implication, to my ears at least, of “obsolete” or “in poor condition”, in the term “redundant” when applied to things as apposed to people.

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Posted: 08 August 2007 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Isn’t the term “redundant” also used to describe backup computer systems such as in the space program, meaning more are in place than needed in case of failure of the primary system ?

Yes, but in this case the statement was accompanied by a shot of the pumps, lying partially disassembled and unused. So that’s not the sense he meant.

Could not “the pumps provided by the government are redundant.” mean that they are redundant for government use, i.e. government-owned pumps surplus to the government’s requirement?

I guess it could, but it would be a non sequitur in this context.

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Posted: 08 August 2007 12:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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bayard - 08 August 2007 12:25 AM

There is also an implication, to my ears at least, of “obsolete” or “in poor condition”, in the term “redundant” when applied to things as apposed to people.

Yes, that’s the implication I read, too. Plus I’ve noticed, courtesy of regular reading of Indian news sites and subtitles in hundreds of Hindi films, that Indian English often has a slightly different use for words than British English.

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