Define Tautology: What Does Tautology Mean in English?

Have you ever heard a statement that sounded a little repetitive? Or have you read a paragragh that seemed to say the same thing over and over again, ad nauseam? If so, you’ve probably encountered an example of tautology. Though the word may sound very complex, it’s actually a pretty simple concept. In today’s post, we are going to define tautology, provide examples of the term, and even help you understand how to form a tautological argument. So, let’s get started!

 

How to Define Tautology in English

To keep things as simple as possible, tautology just refers to a statement that repeats itself, often in an unnecessary way. Generally speaking, tautology can refer to anything that expresses the same meaning at least two times. You can also refer to “a tautology” when speaking about a specific statement or sentence that repeats itself.

What is an example of a tautology?

In spoken English, tautologies are pretty common. You don’t need to feel like you’re making a mistake if you use a tautology when speaking. However, you should generally try to avoid using tautologies in formal writing. Since a tautology requires you to say the same thing twice, it can lead to very wordy sentences that could easily be made shorter. In any case, let’s take a closer look at a few tautology examples.

Common Sayings

As previously mentioned, tautologies are very common in everyday speech. Here are a few examples that English speakers use frequently:

  • It is what it is.
  • You have to keep on keeping on.
  • First and foremost…
  • You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
  • In close proximity to…

Song Lyrics

Musicians often use tautology to provide deeper meaning or to create a rhyme scheme. Here are some famous examples of tautology in music:

  • “I am what I am…” – Gloria Gaynor
  • “I want to live while I am alive” – Bon Jovi
  • “…On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air” – The Beach Boys
  • “The way you do the things you do” – The Temptations
  • “Her eyes, her eyes…” – Bruno Mars

Famous Quotes

Tautology is commonplace in literature, politics, and just about every facet of public life. While tautology can be used for comic effect, it can also be the result of an error of judgment or an attempt at profundity. In any case, there are dozens of famous examples:

  • “This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot.” – Graham Chapman
  • “I like to think of myself as a character actor, though there’s some redundancy in that…” – Jeff Bridges
  • “It ain’t over till it’s over.” – Yogi Berra
  • “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” – Yogi Berra
  • “Our nation must come together to unite.” – George W. Bush

Other Examples

Finally, let’s look at some tautology examples that may not be well-known, but could still be heard in everyday speech:

  • My friend always over-exaggerates.
    • “Exaggerates” already implies that something is being made larger or more significant than it really is, so the use of “over” is redundant.
  • In my opinion, I think it was a bad idea.
    • “In my opinion” and “I think” both mean the same thing.
  • She provided a short summary of the meeting.
    • A “summary” is already the short version of something longer, so using “short” is unnecessary.
  • Getting your driver’s license is a necessary requirement if you want to own a car.
    • A “requirement” is inherently necessary, so using both terms is repetitive.
  • I saw it with my own two eyes.
    • If you “saw” something, you must have seen it with your eyes, so there’s no need for the excessive description.

Tautology Logic in Philosophy

We define tautology a little differently in the realm of logic and philosophical debate. Tautological arguments help deduce that a given conclusion is true based on the form of the statements. This may sound confusing in theory, but it’s much easier to understand in practice. In most cases, a tautological argument takes the form of an “either/or” sentence containing two statements that make the sentence necessarily true. Here are a few examples:

  • The cow is either white or it is not white.
  • The senator will get more votes than his opponent or he will get fewer votes.
  • Either I will play baseball or I will not play baseball.
  • She will either take the job or she won’t.
  • They will win the game or they will lose the game.

In each of these examples, the sentence makes claims that have to be true because it leaves no room for alternatives. However, in doing so, it also makes redundant statements. While all of the examples above are brief and without context, tautological arguments in the realm of philosophy are often circular in nature. In other words, the conclusion simply restates the original proposition, albeit in an altered way. Here are a few examples:

Example #1

  1. All humans live on Earth.
  2. Bill Nye is a human.
  3. Therefore, Bill Nye lives on Earth.

Example #2

  1. All monarchs give speeches.
  2. Queen Elizabeth is a monarch.
  3. Therefore, Queen Elizabeth gives speeches.

Example #3

  1. All actors work in the entertainment industry.
  2. Brad Pitt is an actor.
  3. Therefore, Brad Pitt works in the entertainment industry.

Example #4

  1. All mammals are vertebrates.
  2. Cats are mammals.
  3. Therefore, cats are vertebrates. 

Example #5

  1. All types of fish live in water.
  2. Salmon is a type of fish.
  3. Therefore, salmon live in water.

As you can see from the examples above, you can form a logical argument using tautological statements. Even though the first proposition and the conclusion use different wording, they essentially say the same thing twice. This means that you can have examples of tautology composed of many separate (but related) statements.

 

Conclusion

Once you know how to define tautology, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s so common in English. Whether you’re reading a book, listening to music, or just having a conversation with a friend, you’re almost certain to encounter some form of tautology. So, now that you what the term means, you can easily identify examples of tautology in English!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer and former English teacher. He enjoys traveling the world, watching movies, and caring for his three toy poodles.
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