Monday, January 31, 2011


Since the concept has come up, in one form or another, in nearly all of my classes this semester, I thought it might be fun to explore the notion of tautology, or, as I might define it, redundant or circular reasoning or description.

In rhetoric (persuasion, argument), the concept is important for understanding faulty logic. One popular aphorism  goes: "Tautology is anything that is tautological." There we define by using the very thing which we are defining; this is the essence of logical tautology. An everyday example might be something like:
Peacelight is the best blog on the internet because there is no blog better than it.
The very definition of "best," according to Merriam-Webster, is "excelling all others;" thus, we are simply re-defining "best" ("no blog better") in the second part of the sentence, but proving nothing.

Credit: xkcd. (click to enlarge)

Delightfully, tautology does not end there. It extends, for instance, into the style of language and writing, as redundancy is one of its components. Consider the sentence:
Well-priced websites for personal and small business use were first introduced to the Huntingdon Valley area by ABC Innovations.
See any problems? The phrase "first introduced" is redundant; "introduced," by definition, means that this must be the "first" time it has appeared. The word "first," therefore, could be cut. This is the sort of thing my senior English teacher in high school, Mr. Moxey, would often emphasize. He would also talk about pleonasms: phrases which implicitly include unnecessary parts. Things like:
rising up
close proximity
end result
rough estimate
past experience
After all, can anything rise down? Does the result ever not come at the end? When was the last time you based a decision off of a future experience?

Tautology also shows up during translation. Rice pilaf, for instance, is redundant; pilaf means rice in the original Turkish (rice rice). Chai tea (tea tea, from Hindi), Sahara Desert (desert desert, from Arabic), and cheese quesadilla (cheese cheese-thing, from Spanish) are all similarly amusing.

 Last, but not least, we have acronyms. Ever hear anyone say "ATM machine?" How about "ISBN number," "PIN number," or "UPC code?" Wanna guess what M, N, N, and C stand for in those, respectively? "Please RSVP" is a sneaky one, as RSVP stands for the French "répondez s'il vous plaît," meaning "reply please," which makes "please RSVP" roughly "please reply please." Many examples center around technology, including:
LCD display
LAN network
POST test
VGA adapter 
In summary, this article is what it is. Any opinions I expressed within it are merely my opinions. And now, I would ask that any and all tautological jokes be posted below. Not that you can post them above.


  1. "A popular aphorism goes" ?!?!

    I think you mean "MayaBea says"


  2. *One

    Also, I once heard "automatic ATM." That was interesting.

  3. Would you settle for, "MayaBea often quotes a popular aphorism, which goes," ?


  5. Redundant is redundant, what an old meme

  6. @Wikipedia:

    Unless that's a lie.

    Considering it has 2 pages of Google results (compared to many more by your definition), I expect I was wrong.

  7. Video Graphics ARRAY.


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