Word of the Week #2: Tautology


Words, words what do they mean…

Tatiana Bird, Ediitor-in-Chief

Let’s talk about tautologies. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a tautology is: “Unnecessary repetition, usually in close proximity, of the same word, phrase, idea, argument, etc.”  Now that can be difficult to conceptualize but don’t worry – I’m going to paint a picture for you that illustrates a tautology in a modern context. You and your friends are sitting down at the best Indian restaurant in the city trying to figure out what to order. Suddenly, out of nowhere, your friend opens their mouth and commits what should be considered the 8th deadly sin. 


“Hey, we should get some naan bread for the table” they say.


Tragic. But fear not! You have prepared for this reality. This is your moment! So, with all the world’s unearned confidence at your back you butt in to say:


“Um actually, naan and bread mean the same thing; it’s kind of redundant to say both. So… uhhh yeah…”


Everyone claps. The table is in utter awe of your unparalleled intellect. You are the hero of the day; you have saved your friend from future humiliations, and it’s all thanks to you and your little factoid.


Ok. Back to reality now. In truth, being pedantic enough to correct someone saying “naan bread”  is more likely to lead to your exclusion from future gatherings than leading to applause. But, the fact remains that certain redundant phrases are perpetuated. These phrases are called tautologies. Chai tea, please RSVP, and close proximity, are some of the most common tautological expressions used today. 


The word tautology has Greek and Latin origins. It’s a combination of the greek roots “tautos” and “logos”. “Tautos” means “same” and “logos” refers to the study of something. The two roots combined to form the greek word tautologos which simply means “repeating what has been said”. This later formed the late Latin word “tautologia” which is the “representation of the same thing in other words,”


Tautologies, although considered “faults of style,” have become widely accepted parts of the English language. Redundant as they may be, sometimes it’s useful to insert an extra word that further elucidates or refines the meaning of the phrase.