Tautology

Definition of Tautology

Tautology is a repetitive use of phrases or words which have similar meanings. In simple words, it is expressing the same thing, an idea or saying two or more times. The word tautology is derived from the Greek word “tauto” (the same) and “logos” (a word or an idea).

A grammatical tautology means when an idea is repeated within a phrase, sentence or paragraph to give an impression that the writer is providing extra information. Tautologies are very common in the English language due to the large variety of words it has borrowed from other languages. Given the fact that during its evolution the English language has been greatly influenced by several other languages including Germanic and Latin, it is not uncommon to find several exotic tautologies. Since English has the capacity to borrow words from foreign languages, multiple similar words are used in it and this is how tautologies can often be found in poetry as well as prose.

Types of Tautology

There are several types of tautology which are commonly used in everyday life, in poetry, in prose, in songs, and in discussions depending on the requirements of a situation. Some of the common categories are:

  • Due to inadequacies in Language
  • Intentional ambiguities
  • Derision
  • As a Poetic Device
  • Psychological significance
  • Used by inept Speakers

Examples of Tautology in Literature

Tautology is often confused with repetition. Some authorities say the latter uses the same words while the former uses words with similar meanings. That tautology is the repetition not of words but of ideas. Others say, there is no clear distinction between the two. That tautology includes the repetition of words. To understand this better, read the following examples of Tautology.

Example #1

”Your acting is completely devoid of emotion.”

Devoid is defined as “completely empty”. Thus, completely devoid is an example of Tautology.

Example #2

Repeat that again” and “reiterate again
To repeat or reiterate something is to do or say something again.

Example #3

Shout It Out Loud!” – Kiss
When a person shouts, it is always loud.

Example #4

“This is like deja vu all over again” (Yogi Berra)

Example #5

The emphatic function of tautology reveals itself as in the example given below:

“To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning.”
 (T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland)

See how Thomas Stern Eliot used the same words in the lines

Example #6

In some excerpts, tautology is used intentionally that involves derision inherent in it.

“Polonious: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.”
(Hamlet, II: ii] Shakespeare)

Here Hamlet has used words in order to show that he is lost in words that Polonius is famous in using.

Example #7

As a Poetic Device

“Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme
From the bells, bells, bells, bells.”
(The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe)

“Twit twit twit/ Jug jug jug jug jug jug”
(The Wasteland” by T. S. Eliot)

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
(The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot)

Here, different types of tautologies have been used in a technical way of repetition that dominates others such as figures of speech, imitation and ornamentation. All of above mentioned examples might appear in the daily use of language and also as poetic devices.

Example #8

Unlike the artistic inspiration inbuilt in the preceding types of redundancy; here are a couple of tautology examples with psychological implications. The speakers show the acceptance of their destiny in these types of repetition:

“If I perish, I perish.”
(Esther 4:15)

“If I be bereaved (of my children), I am bereaved.”
(Genesis 43:14)

Function of Tautology

The importance of tautology cannot be denied in modern literary writing. Today, however, writers try to avoid using tautological words and phrases to avoid monotony and repetition. It has almost become a norm to present short and to-the-point language instead of repetitious and redundant piece.

Despite it being counted as a major style error, several writers commonly use tautology as a powerful tool to emphasize a particular idea or draw their readers’ attention to a certain aspect of life. But it is not always taken as a quality of poor grammar; rather it has been taken as a specific rhetorical device.

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