Word of the Day: Tautology

By Daniel Scocco

Tautology is the repetition of meaning in two consecutive words, or the needless repetition of an idea. A tautology is considered a fault of style. Examples include “free gift” and “extra bonus.”

There are scary stories, and then there are scary stories, just as there is writing, and then there is writing. Evidence supporting that fuzzy tautology is abundantly provided in this excellent two-volume collection, “American Fantastic Tales.” (USA Today)

The popular shorthand version of it is “the survival of the fittest.” This is a phrase coined by the so-called Social Darwinist, Herbert Spencer, in work published before the appearance of the Origin of Species and adopted–with acknowledgment of Spencer as the source — in later editions of Darwin’s book. There is an apparent tautology in the phrase. Since Darwinian (and, of course, Spencerian) fitness is proved by survival, one could as well call the principle at work “the survival of survivors.” (NY Times)

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2 Responses to “Word of the Day: Tautology”

  • rike weiss

    Aloha Daniel: I am so grateful for your website and recommend it constantly. It’s not only helpful, it also serves as inspiration.
    Mahalo, Rike

  • Jason

    I’m glad tautology is a word of the day, the frequency of their use irritates me no end. But I have to ask, since both of your examples, “free gift” and “extra bonus”, are pleonasms, why are tautologies not distinguished from pleonasms?

    Although, I will concede that a case can be made for “free gift” being a tautology in some cases but since a gift is something given and since given – in common use if not necessarily by definition – implies something given freely, “free gift” seems more like a pleonasm where regular speech is used.

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