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Tautology, definition #2


(1) A redundancy (sense #3)--in particular the needless repetition of an idea using different words. (Repetition of the same sense is tautology. Repetition of the same sound is tautophony.)

(2) In logic, a statement that is unconditionally true by virtue of its form alone; for example, "Socrates is either mortal or he's not." Adjective: tautologous or tautological.

See also:


From the Greek, "redundant"

Examples and Observations:

  • "It took only as many minutes to find the following half-dozen examples in one day's crop of papers:
    A major nuclear disaster could have been sparked off . . .

    . . . who died of a fatal dose of heroin

    . . . equalized the game to a 2-2 draw

    . . . kept it from his friends that he was a secret drinker

    Dirty Den has made up his mind never to go back to EastEnders, finally severing his connection with the soap

    . . . a group for one-parent single mothers
    Tautology is either unnecessary elaboration (the Inland Revenue's white-collar workers), pointless repetition (pair of twins), superfluous description (Europe's huge butter mountain), a needless appendage (weather conditions) or a self-cancelling proposition (He is either guilty or not guilty)."
    (Keith Waterhouse, Waterhouse on Newspaper Style, rev. ed. Revel Barker, 2010)

  • "At the risk of being redundant and repetitive, and redundant, let me say that tautology is the last thing children need from their parents, especially when they are in trouble.

    "Whatever you have to say, whatever you do, avoid tautology. Try to say it only once!"
    (Tom Sturges, Parking Lot Rules & 75 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Children. Ballantine, 2009)

  • "The 'new public management' has brought new ailments, particularly tautology. You often see such phrases as 'first class organizations are those that perform excellently.'"
    (David Walker, "Mind Your Language." The Guardian, Sep. 27, 2006)

  • "I do not find that the repetition of an important word a few times--say, three or four times--in a paragraph troubles my ear if clearness of meaning is best secured thereby. But tautological repetition which has no justifying object, but merely exposes the fact that the writer's balance at the vocabulary bank has run short and that he is too lazy to replenish it from the thesaurus--that is another matter. It makes me feel like calling the writer to account."
    (Mark Twain, Autobiography of Mark Twain. Univ. of California Press, 2010)

  • "In common parlance, an utterance is usually said to be tautologous if it contains a redundancy and says the same thing twice over in different words--e.g., ' John is the father of Charles and Charles is a son of John.' In logic, however, a tautology is defined as a statement that excludes no logical possibilities--'Either it is raining or it is not raining.' Another way of putting this is to say that a tautology is 'true in all possible worlds.' No one will doubt that, irrespective of the actual state of the weather (i.e., regardless of whether the statement that it is raining is true or false), the statement 'Either it is raining or it is not raining' is necessarily true."
    (E. Nagel and J. R. Newman, Gödel's Proof, 1958)

  • "One of the most boring fallacies, the tautology, basically just repeats the premise.
    FAN: The Cowboys are favored to win since they're the better team."
    (Jay Heinrichs, Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. Three Rivers Press, 2007)

  • "Tautology. Yes, I know, it's an ugly word. But so is the thing. Tautology is this verbal device which consists in defining like by like . . .. Since it is magical, it can of course only take refuge behind the argument of authority: thus do parents at the end of their tether reply to the child who keeps on asking for explanations: 'because that's how it is,' or even better: 'just because, that's all.'"
    (Roland Barthes, Mythologies. Macmillan, 1972)
Pronunciation: taw-TOL-eh-jee
Also Known As: pleonasm

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