Tautologies: It’s All Too Much


What’s the problem with tautologies?

Identical twin babies is a double helping of ‘cute’. With words, though, doubling up on meaning is not such a great idea.

It’s always wise to avoid tautologies. Why would you ask your audience to read more than they need to?

What’s a tautology?

The word, as you might guess, comes, from the Greek words tauto, meaning ‘same’ and logos, meaning ‘word’. It basically means saying the same thing twice, even if using slightly different words.

Everyone is familiar with the tautology ‘eight am in the morning’; silly thing to say because ‘am’ means ante meridiem, which is Latin for ‘before noon’, i.e ‘morning’.
(Don’t confuse this with ‘antimeridian’, which is something else entirely).

The other favourite example is ‘ATM machine’. The ‘M’ stands for ‘Machine’ already, so that makes it a type of ‘machine machine’.
(Not an ‘automatic teller machine’ though, as some people think; it stands for Automated Teller Machine).

The same with ‘PIN number’. Don’t forget your Personal Identity Number Number.

5 tautologies you should try to avoid

We often hear these expressions in the business context.

  1. ‘New innovations or ‘new initiatives’

An innovation is a ‘first’ – something new. An initiative is also a ‘first’ – the beginning of something. ‘New’ is unnecessary. If something isn’t new, then it isn’t an innovation or an initiative anyway.

  1. ‘Close scrutiny’

A scrutiny is already a close-up and detailed examination of something. Putting the word ‘close’ in front of it is superfluous. 

  1. ‘Forward planning’ 

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think planning is done in advance, wouldn’t you think. A bit useless if it’s done afterwards.

  1. ‘Safe haven’

We all know what this means and it’s become something of a cliché. ‘Safe’, though, is redundant. Even though ‘haven’ came from the Old English neutral word ‘hæfen’, meaning ‘harbour’, the modern meaning is ‘a place of safety’. A ‘safe landing’ or a ‘safe space’ would make sense. Or just ‘haven’.

  1. ‘In my opinion, I think’ or ‘From a personal viewpoint, I think’

This is a classic example of padding, but also a tautology. Your opinion or viewpoint iswhat you think (and perhaps feel). Easy to see why it’s a tautology. Harder to eliminate it from your writing and speaking.

Believe it or not…

This is disputed, but it makes a good story.

There is, reputedly, a place in Cumbria, England, that the locals called Torpenhow Hill. Apparently, ‘torr’ (Old English) means ‘hill with rocky peak’; ‘penn’ (Celtic) means ‘peak’ or ‘hill’; and ‘hoh’ or ‘how’ (Old English) means ‘projecting ground’ or ‘hill’.

That means the place name is Hill Hill Hill Hill. That’s pretty definitive as tautology!

Try to cut tautologies from your writing (and speaking). 

Otherwise, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again’ ?

See more of my useful Writing Tips.

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