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“armed gunmen”
Posted: 25 January 2013 06:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
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While watching the news this morning I caught the phrase “armed gunmen”, and began to wonder if there are “gunmen” of any other type, that is, “unarmed gunmen”.  I wonder why we feel the need to emphasize that a “gunman” is “armed”?  We have other such terms that creep into the language.  George Carlin had a bit on “hot water heater”, for instance.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Surely even gunmen have their days off.

I’ve never heard of a hot water heater outside of that Carlin routine. Whereabouts in the world is that phrase really used?

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Posted: 25 January 2013 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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"Hot water heater” is the usual term in the US.  It sounds redundant, but one can argue that it helps to distinguish the appliance that provides hot water running through pipes to sinks, baths, showers, etc., from all the other devices that are or can be used to heat water (a kettle, a furnace boiler, etc.)

Edit: Note that in the US, it’s common for the appliance that heats the water for washing, bathing, etc., to be separate from the furnace boiler (if the furnace has a boiler).

[ Edited: 25 January 2013 07:10 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 25 January 2013 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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"Armed gunman” is indeed redundant, but redundancy is not always bad, especially in speech. By using the redundancy, the newscaster makes it more likely the audience will take in the fact that the person was indeed armed. I would reflexively delete the “armed” if I found it while editing a written piece, but I’d think twice before deleting it from a script. (I probably would still delete it, but I’d think about it first.)

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Posted: 25 January 2013 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Googling “unarmed gunman” I find it mostly used ironically, with some people asking the same question, that is, if there is such a thing as an “unarmed gunman”.

I’m trying to think of others like that.  I suppose “ATM machine” and “PIN number” might qualify.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The three online dictionaries I checked (MW, RHD, Collins) all include some variation of “one who is skilled in the use of a gun” in their definitions of gunman.  Certainly one can be an unarmed gunman in that sense.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I have to admit that if I heard a newscaster say something like, “Five gunmen entered a bank,” I’d at least briefly scratch my head as to precisely what that meant.  It would be a strangely indirect way of saying that five men who were armed with guns had entered it.  I probably would edit “armed gunmen” in either speech or writing, but I would be more likely to change “gunmen” to “men” than to delete the “armed” part, unless it was already clear from the context that several men carrying guns had entered the bank.  So, “Five armed men burst into a bank this Wednesday, and one of the gunmen threatened to shoot the bank manager unless he complied with their demands,” would strike me as perfectly natural, but just referring to “five gunmen” doing something, without prior context, would be a bit odd.

As to ATM machine and PIN number, I think it is a similar form of redundancy for emphasis and/or clarity, but I think there is an added twist, there, which is that ISTM that acronyms have a way of becoming treated as if they were simply words rather than an abbreviated way of referencing several of them, and people not uncommonly forget what the letters in an acronym stand for even if they use the acronym every day (I have run into this when I ask expert witnesses to explain what an acronym that is part of their professional jargon means: it seems like, more often than not, they either can’t quite remember what all of the letters stand for or, at a minimum, they have a lot of trouble recalling what some of them refer to.).  And sometimes something that used to be an acronym ceases to be so:  IiRC, KFC is the official name of a fast food chain, and while it used to be short for Kentucky Fried Chicken it is no longer short for anything.

How many people, I wonder, think of “PIN” as an abbreviation for “Personal Identification Number” as opposed to simply thinking of it as “one of those little codes you have to enter in a keypad when you use your debit card”?  Of course, “PIN number” is redundant either way (since the type of “code” you use is composed only of numbers, AFAIK), but it is much more obviously so if you consciously recall that the N in PIN is (was?) “number.” And perhaps “PIN number”, as redundant as it is, nonetheless has some utility, as it helps clarify that one is referring to the specific number that comprises a specific PIN, as opposed to PINs in general or a PIN as an abstract concept [Scratches head, wondering if “abstract concept” is redundant.  Decides it probably isn’t, and doesn’t care if it is.]

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Posted: 25 January 2013 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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It’s increasingly the case that clerks will ask the buyer, after swiping their bank cards, to “enter your PIN” without saying “number.” It could be that they’re conscious of the redundancy or theyre just shortening the usual phrase. They also all now tend to say, on more secure transactions, “please enter [or give me] the last for digits of your social”.

edit: they’re ugh.

[ Edited: 25 January 2013 05:15 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 25 January 2013 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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For some reason, I find the truncation of “social security number” to “social” quite irritating.  “PIN number” bothers me not at all, except that discussing it may arouse the wrath of languagehat.

edited to remove stray quote mark

[ Edited: 25 January 2013 12:30 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 25 January 2013 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Shortening it to “armed men” loses the information regarding what they are armed with. They could be carrying knives or swords.

It’s probably a pretty safe assumption that in the context of a newscast the phrase “armed gunmen” means carrying firearms, but in other contexts this wouldn’t necessarily be clear. Certainly in a legal document “armed” does not necessarily mean “carrying firearms.”

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Posted: 25 January 2013 01:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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If each of the armed gunmen carried a single gun, would anybody refer to them as “single-armed gunmen”? or (even more precisely) as “gunmen with one arm apiece”? It seems to me (after several years’ ongoing exposure to wordorigins.org) that redundancy is harmless, so long as it’s not misleading. I think, also, that most of us probably indulge unthinkingly from time to time, in some form of redundancy. I recall have spoken, more than once in my life, of “dishonest politicians”, to give just one instance.......

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Posted: 25 January 2013 05:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Is a gunman still a gunman when he puts down his gun or is disarmed? I’d say so. In which case an armed gunman gives more information than a gunman, it tells us that the gunman is in possession of his weapon. I don’t think there is redundancy in the phrase.

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Posted: 26 January 2013 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I agree with aldi.  (And I take pleasure in saying “PIN number” and offending the pedantic.)

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Posted: 26 January 2013 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I’d also agreed with aldi but although I’d posted, it didn’t appear, oddly. Anyway, I now also agree with lh.  Heh!

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Posted: 26 January 2013 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Anyone who disagrees, just fire a SAM missile at them.

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Posted: 26 January 2013 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Or shoot them with an AK-47 assault rifle.

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