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Tautology

The term tautology has two main meanings. Within rhetoric, a tautology is when someone (often unintentionally) says the same thing through two different phrases, sometimes within the same sentence. This kind of tautology is usually considered problematic and a sign of bad writing style. Within logic, though, a tautology is just an inherently true statement. For example, the statement that 2 = 2 would be a logical tautology.  

Definition

Tautology is the repetitive use of words or phrases which have similar meanings to one another. Essentially, a tautology expresses the same thing, idea, or saying repeatedly. There are many reasons people use tautology in both everyday discussion and poetry, research papers, prose, and song lyrics. At times it may be due to inept speakers or inadequacies in a language, or intentional ambiguities . Tautology can demonstrate derision, be used a poetic or literary device, or contain psychological significance. The word “tautology” is derived from the Greek tautologos meaning “the same” and “word or idea.” Its first known use was in 1574.

Examples of tautology

Tautology can and is often confused with repetition in literature, and the differences are debatable. Redundancy is also a cousin of tautology, and boilerplate is a similar literary device used to reprint repetitive text. Here are some examples of tautology to help clarify these differences. 

“Her face was completely devoid of emotion.” Here, “devoid” means “completely empty,” so using the adjective “completely” to modify the descriptor “devoid” makes the sentence repetitive.

“The hot summer sun was scorching.”

“I personally made this box for you with my own two hands.”

“The tutor assisted me by helping me finish my paper.”

“Allow myself to introduce myself.”

“They spoke in turns, one after the other.”

“This is a short summary of my research paper.”

“It was his usual custom to put on a hat before going outside.”

“Please reiterate that statement again.”

“The two buildings are in close proximity to one another.”

“The house was completely and totally deserted when we crashed through the front door.”

“The town was a small, tiny speck on the world map.”

Uses of tautology

Tautologies abound in advertising and marketing due to the limited, repetitive, and colloquial language used. In Hindi, the word “chai” means “tea,” so when United States coffee and teahouse patrons refer to “Chai tea,” it is actually a tautology. Here are some more examples of tautology:

“Today’s modern technology is truly a thing of the future.”

“This thing is a new innovation.”

“Receive an added bonus gift for free!”

“This drink will make you a beautiful, good-looking woman overnight!”

In film and song lyrics, tautologies are also present, oftentimes for a humorous effect.

“I shall slip unnoticed through the darkness…like  dark, unnoticeable slippy thing.” Neil Gaiman, MirrorMask

“So any help you could give us would be most…helpful,” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done/There’s nothing you can sing that can’t be sung” – “All You Need is Love,” The Beatles

“Now everybody repeat again, after me.”

“ATM machine.”

“What is your PIN number?”

“The HIV virus is a true enemy of humankind.”

“Either it will snow next week, or it won’t.”

“For all intents and purposes, the girl was dead.”

“The frozen ice rippled across the tundra like ocean waves.”

“Say that over again once more.”

“Their joint collaboration allowed the project to move communally forward.”

In conversation, tautologies are used to convey social perceptions, or to avoid confrontational comments. Some examples are listed below.

“Enough is enough.”

“Boys will be boys.”

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

“Pollution is not harming the environment; the impurities in water and air are killing the animals and plants and sometimes people.”

“A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.”

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