I. What is Tautology?
I did it, so I’m finished.
This phrase sounds strange because if you did something, that already means you finished it! This is a tautology- defining or explaining something by saying exactly the same thing again in different words. Often, tautologies are used unknowingly and editors work to delete tautologies in order to create writing that is clear and that uses just the right amount of words.
II. Examples of Tautology
Some tautologies are frequent offenders in everyday conversation. Here are a few common examples of tautological phrases:
We’re meeting at ten a.m., two hours before noon.
Of course, ten a.m means two hours before noon. The second phrase adds nothing to the first.
Bad writing is writing that lacks the qualities of good writing.
Once again, this explanation is not helpful! That’s the problem with tautologies.
In my opinion, they’re the best—better than all the other ones.
Again, this is simply the definition of ‘best’; it doesn’t add anything.
III. The Importance of Avoiding Tautology
Tautologies interrupt prose and conversation with unnecessary words. They also sound bad because they are a kind of mistake; it sounds like you meant to explain something, but instead you just said the same thing again, which can be confusing rather than helpful. For these reasons, they should be carefully avoided.
IV. Tautology in Literature
Sometimes, tautologies can be found in literature in order to emphasize ideas, play with language, or create more musical language. Here are a few examples:
Read this excerpt from “Sacred Emily”:
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
Page ages page ages page ages.
Wiped Wiped wire wire.
Tautologies in Stein’s writing both emphasize certain ideas and turn the writing into a rhythmic composition.
For a second example, consider Winnie the Pooh’s sign for the discovery of the North Pole:
Discovered by Pooh
Pooh found it
In this example, the tautology of “Discovered by Pooh” and “Pooh found it” humorously highlights Pooh’s childishly simple way of thinking. This sort of tautology is common in children’s literature, where it has a function; for one thing, it is rhythmic which makes it enjoyable, and for another thing, children enjoy repeating things, especially short phrases, like a chant.
V. Tautology in Pop Culture
Tautologies can be found in comedic dialogues due to nervous babbling, fast-talking, or unintelligent mumbling. Consider these examples:
The Ugly Barnacle
Once there was an ugly barnacle. He was so ugly that everyone died. The end.
The simplicity and repetition in Patrick’s story serve to reflect his low IQ in a funny way.
The Beatle’s song “She Loves You.”
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
This song is an example of how something that would be considered a tautology in conversation, can be catchy and enjoyable when in song-form.
VI. Related Terms
Tautology is an unwanted repetition, but not all repetition is pointless. Often, repetition is meaningful or poetic and may emphasize an important aspect. For examples of meaningful repetition, consider anaphora and epistrophe.
Anaphora is the repetition of a certain phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or phrases. Here is an example of anaphora versus tautology:
We are strong, we are unified, and we will be victorious!
In this example, the repetition of “We” at the beginning of phrases emphasizes the unity of this group, and their emotion.
We are unified–one group, standing together!
In this example, the repetition just says “we are unified” in more words.
Epistrophe, also known as epiphora, is meaningful repetition of a certain phrase at the end of successive sentences or phrases. Here is an example of epistrophe versus tautology:
When I ask him to help me, he says he’ll do it tomorrow. When I tell him to do his homework, he says he’ll do it tomorrow. And when I insist that he eat some dinner, he says he’ll do it tomorrow! Always, he’ll do it tomorrow!
In this example, the repetition of “he’ll do it tomorrow” emphasizes the frustration of the speaker, who is tired of hearing this person stalling and procrastinating.
When I ask him to aid me, do his homework, and eat dinner, he says he’ll do it tomorrow or the next day; he always says he’ll do it later, at another time.
Everything after the semi-colon is tautologous (part of a tautology) and should be deleted.
VII. In Closing
Although meaningful repetition creates vivid and creative storytelling and description, tautological usually just weakens language and makes a writer sound less intelligent. In order to write well, avoid tautologies