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abyss

People occasionally say and authors occasionally write about deep abysses. They might say or write, for example, “he hurtled fatally into a deep abyss” or “her spirit descended into a deep abyss of despair.” You know who you are. Stop it. Stop it this instant!

An abyss is a deep—possibly really, really, really deep—fissure in the Earth. If the chasm isn’t at least deep, if not really, really, really deep, it’s not an abyss. Period.

The word abyss can be used figuratively, as I did in the second example above. There are also times when, from the way sentences are worded, the use of abyss might sound literal, but it is not. Examples of this are, “the abyss of space,” “the abyss of the ocean,” or “the abyss of his dark emotions,” but it still has to be enormous in human terms to qualify as an abyss.

If, say, you have a trifling, fleeting foreboding, you would not be justified in referring to it as an abyss of dark emotions. Not even close. At most it’s a shallow gully (and, before you complain, no, a gully doesn’t have to be particularly shallow, so the “shallow” was necessary there), and hardly even that.

The point I’m trying to make is that the “deep” in “deep abyss” is redundant. Your use of it paints you as a stupid ignoramus. (“Stupid ignoramus.” See what I did there? Now, didn’t the “stupid” in front of “ignoramus” sound redundant and, therefore, unnecessary? No? It didn’t sound that way to you? Fine. Use deep abyss, but don’t blame me if I can’t help mocking you.

Discuss among yourselves whether “dark” in “at the bottom of a dark abyss” would be redundant. Abysses are, as I said, deep by definition. It will almost always be dark at their bottoms. Almost always, but not always.

If the sun is directly overhead, some light might penetrate to the bottom. What’s more, near the top of an abyss, where the lead character in a story might be desperately holding on to a tree stump for dear life, it may be light despite the abyss being, on the whole, mostly dark.

So, is “dark” redundant in this case? My take on it is, not necessarily, but maybe. You be the judge. Or if you don’t care one whit about it, and I don’t know why you would, then don’t bother being the judge. No one will know that you stopped by here, but shirked that duty.

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