Tautology (language)  

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In the illusory babels of language, an artist might advance specifically to get lost, and to intoxicate himself in dizzying syntaxes, seeking odd intersections of meaning, strange corridors of history, unexpected echoes, unknown humors, or voids of knowledge… but this quest is risky, full of bottomless fictions and endless architectures and counter-architectures… at the end, if there is an end, are perhaps only meaningless reverberations.” --Robert Smithson in " A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art" (1968)


"It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form. --"The Solar Anus" by Georges Bataille

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In literary criticism and rhetoric, a tautology is a statement which repeats the same idea, using near-synonymous morphemes, words, or phrases, that is, in the words of Modern English Usage, "saying the same thing twice". Tautology and pleonasm are not consistently differentiated in the literature.

Like pleonasm, it is often considered a fault of style when unintentional. On the other hand, an intentional repetition may be an effective way to emphasize a thought, or help the listener or reader understand a point.

Sometimes logical tautologies like "Boys will be boys" are conflated with language tautologies, but in general, a rhetorical tautology is not inherently true.

Contents

Etymology

The word was coined in Hellenistic Greek from ταὐτός 'the same plus λόγος 'word/idea'., and transmitted through 3rd-century Latin tautologia and French tautologie. It first appears in English in the 16th century. The use in the term logical tautology was introduced in English by Wittgenstein in 1919, perhaps following Auguste Comte's usage in 1835.

Examples

Discussion

Intentional repetition of meaning intends to amplify or emphasize a particular, usually significant, fact about what is being discussed. For example, a gift is, by definition, free of charge; using the phrase "free gift" might emphasize that there are no hidden conditions or fine print, be it the expectation of money or reciprocation, or that the gift is being given by volition.

This is related to the rhetorical device of hendiadys, where one concept is expressed through the use of two descriptive words or phrases. For example, "goblets and gold" meaning wealth, or "this day and age" meaning the present time. Superficially these expressions may seem tautological, but they are stylistically sound because the repeated meaning is just a way to emphasize the same idea.

The use of tautologies is, however, usually unintentional. For example, the phrases "mental telepathy", "planned conspiracies", and "small dwarfs" imply that there are such things as "physical telepathy, spontaneous conspiracies, and giant dwarfs."

Parallelism is not tautology, but rather a particular stylistic device. Much Old Testament poetry is based on parallelism: the same thing said twice, but in slightly different ways (Fowler puts it as pleonasm). However, modern biblical study emphasizes that there are subtle distinctions and developments between the two lines, such that they are usually not truly the "same thing." Parallelism can be found wherever there is poetry in the Bible: Psalms, the Books of the Prophets, and in other areas as well.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tautology (language)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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