October 23, 2020

Is “Apiece” Really Necessary?

 Sixteen years ago, I wrote a post titled “Is ‘Both’ Really Necessary?” It was written in response to this sentence heard on NPR: “Both of the planes disappeared within a few minutes of each other.” I commonly hear “both” used this way, implying that each of two entities possesses a property that necessarily involves both of them. (If the problem with this location is unclear, read my earlier essay.)

Today, I encountered another use of a redundant word in a similar context. On the 11:00 am EDT NPR newscast, Korva Coleman reported:

Game three of the World Series is tonight. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays are tied in the World Series. They have each won one game apiece.

One might ask if “in the World Series” is really necessary in the second sentence, but this is only a matter of style. Perhaps it is even helpful to the listener who is not paying close attention.

My concern is actually with the word “apiece.” The word, in the sentence in question, is not only unnecessary but is also nonsensical. The sentence is essentially saying

The Los Angeles Dodgers have won one game apiece.
The Tampa Bay Rays have won one game apiece.

Neither of these sentences makes sense. Just as the property “disappeared within a few minutes of each other” is a property necessarily involving more than a single entity, “apiece” necessarily involves more than one entity. Either of the following sentences would have been grammatically and logically acceptable alternatives to the original formulation:

They have each won one game.
They have won one game apiece.

The first sentence attributes having won one game to each team. The second sentence attributes having won the same number of games to both teams. Unlike the original, both sentences are grammatical and logical.

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