04 Jul Tautologies: A ‘necessary requirement’? Here’s our ‘personal opinion’.
We give tautologies a bad rap here at RM.
Because most of the time, these writing redundancies are unintentional. Indeed, we often don’t even realise we’re using them. Although we should – because tautologies can bog our sentences down in verbiage. Making them flowery. Too long. And less crisp.
But are tautologies really ALWAYS bad?
And is it true that they could even give your copy impact – and a cheeky punch – every once in a while?
Here, we unpack all things tautologies. What they are. How to spot them in the wild. When it’s okay to use them. And when to steer clear!
So… what are tautologies?
Tautologies happen when you use different words or phrases that express the same meaning, together.
As we mentioned, tautologies are cheeky little things. In fact, you may already be using them:
- ATM Machine (ATM already stands for automated teller machine; do we need to say it again?)
- New innovation (innovations are already new)
- Current status (status already implies that it’s current)
- Added bonus
- Previous experience
- 9am in the morning
- Mutual agreement
- Repeat again
- Progress forward (progress is always forward; backward progress is regression)
- True facts (facts are, by their nature, true… unless you’re Donald Trump)
How do I identify tautologies?
As writers, it’s almost like we’re innately programmed to write tautologies.
So, they’re not too hard to find!
Usually, tautologies are neighbouring words like:
- Scorching hot (could just be ‘scorching’ or ‘hot’)
- Close proximity (proximity, by definition, means close by)
Other times, tautologies are a repetition of the same word or phrase:
> It’s either broken or not broken.
> To be or not to be (Shakespeare, does this really make sense?)
These are called logical tautologies. They cancel themselves out since they state both possibilities.
Are tautologies good or bad?
Tautologies are typically unnecessary fluff. They rarely add value and often repeat what has already been said.
But we’re not your stuffy English teacher (love you guys!) casting tautologies as only bad. They’re only bad when they’re repetitive. And when they distract readers from your message.
Use your judgement. Is it better to say:
> We sell across a broad range of product categories.
> We sell across a range of product categories.
Okay, so tautologies are bad?
Again, tautologies can be useful.
They’re great when you really want to drive home a point. Like in our previous example, ‘broad’ can highlight how comprehensive a retailer’s selection of products is.
Instead of new innovations, newest innovations would distinguish the most recent launch of a product or service.
You might talk about your primary focus. But this works only when you have a secondary focus as well.
Where should I incorporate tautologies?
The key idea is to be intentional with your tautologies; know the rules, so you can break them.
Take the tautological title of this blog – ironic, deliberate, and comedically genius – as an example. (Go on, scroll back up for a look. Neat, huh?)
It begs the question – when is a tautology appropriate?
Well, a retailer might want to emphasise that it’s a free gift. Not just a gift – a free gift.
A speechwriter, for instance, might use tautologies in a parallel structure. It’s a handy rhetoric device, repeating the same pattern of words or structure for impact. They’re a real attention-grabber:
> Pick me, choose me, love me. (Thank you, Meredith Grey!)
When should I avoid tautologies?
A word of warning: once you start noticing tautologies, you might not be able to stop. We call this the ‘curse of linguistics’. (Or ‘The Pringle Effect’.)
So – now you’re seeing tautologies left right and centre, where should you avoid them?
A common example is the adverb ‘personally’ – and we get it. When you’re emailing a colleague or a client, it adds that personal touch. But sometimes it’s better to be succinct and just get the message across.
Another example is compounding adjectives with similar meanings. We know that your staff are ‘bright, friendly and warm’… but do you really need all three?
Tautologies: our final conclusion
So, what did we learn about tautologies?
That – when used sparingly and strategically – they might very well be a necessary requirement. Provided, that is, you’re intentional with how you use them. Tautologies can emphasise your message, convey urgency or show some wit.
But avoid tautologies when you can be succinct. Because removing them will almost always tighten up your writing. Making it sharper, slicker, scannable – and more readable to boot.
Looking to learn more about tautologies? Or tips to touch up your writing? Join us at our next writing workshop!