The first time I read the word “tautology,” I thought because of the “logy” suffix it referred to the study of something. However, in the realm of language, tautology isn’t considered the study of anything but the analysis of an element of writing. Specifically, the needless repetition of a word. Not that I can improve on the definition of the three dictionaries I use for reference, yet I believe tautology is easier to understand if it’s referred to as modifying a word with a word that implies the same thing.
The All-Time Classic Is One Phrase We Hear Every Day
“It’s the same exact thing,” is the most obvious case of tautology we are exposed to on a routine basis. Can there be the slightest difference between “same” and “exact” in any context? Is there anything wrong with saying “It’s the same thing” when discussing something that is identical. Yet those who write copy, for newscasters in particular, seem to relish telling us that something is the same exact thing at every opportunity. Or it’s the exact opposite, as if “exact” makes something more opposite.
Tautology Comes in Many Forms
Many people have written in the drafts of theirs I’m sent to edit that a character has looked up at the sky or down at the floor. Unless someone is an astronaut, is it possible to look down at the sky? How about up at the floor? Just like looking down at the sky, it’s possible to create a scenario in which a person would look up at a floor, but it takes some work.
Tautology Creeps Into Our Rhetoric in Subtle Forms Too
An example I noticed in a dictionary was “widow woman.” But what about the following examples: hurtful injury, unhappy frown, mean sneer, happy smile, joyous glee, and black darkness?
However, if a connotation is desired that goes outside the accepted obvious implication for injury, frown, sneer, smile, glee and darkness, it’s of course acceptable if not desirable to modify each noun. Slight injury, deep frown, loud sneer, brief smile, tempered glee, and eerie darkness are each couplets with greater meaning because of the modifier.
Tautology Isn’t Limited to Nouns
I read recently a line in which a photograph was blown up larger. Could it be enlarged any other way? The same as reduced smaller or fell down. Yes, someone can theoretically fall up the stairs, but this is certainly not common enough to be accepted as idiom.And it’s what’s acceptable to a language that in large measure determines tautology.
Ask Yourself, Am I Saying the Same Thing?
Variety keeps a narrative fresh, and it starts by making certain we’re adding to the meaning of the nouns and verbs we modify. When a writer pays attention to tautology, I’ve generally found this author just as introspective when analyzing core thoughts and making certain these themes aren’t over-justified by the text that follows.
And if I’m Not Saying the Same Thing?
One final remark, and it involves making certain something is indeed tautological. I was taken to task a while ago for using the couplet “much more.” An erudite chap mentioned that an instructor of his in grammar school, no less, said this phrase was redundant and therefore superfluous. I respected his comment and complimented him for his good fortune at having a teacher who was so precise and willing to share such good advice with children that young. But I ask anyone reading this article, would you rather have more on your next week’s paycheck–or would you rather to have much more?