Repeat it again: Tautology

tautologyWriting definitions is a challenge, I know. But the truth is definitions are key to understanding the intricacies of a concept. The reason why this type of error is so persistent in our definitions probably signals towards lack of knowledge. I remember when I was in school as a young girl, a grammar teacher told us it was OK to write definitions like this: “To procure: the action and effect of procuring”.

I still remember it today when I write definitions or translate text that seems to be playing trick games with me. So I wanted to talk briefly today about Tautology: The repetition of information that has already been provided in the term. The Webster Dictionary defines it as “a statement in which you repeat a word, idea, etc., in a way that is not necessary”.

Simple examples of tautological definitions are:

  1. A unicorn is a beast with one horn.
  2. Metal is something made of metal.
  3. Customer ID is defined as “The identifier of the Customer.
  4. Repeat it again (See post title above!)

Mind you, these are easy examples, and when we have to write more complex definitions, sometimes we might be overlooking this issue. Tautologies can be common in some languages with a large number of words borrowed from other languages. But tautology is not only present in definitions. Acronyms also might also contribute to tautological issues (think DVD disk, HIV virus, ATM machine, etc.). Advertising is also tricky. Phrases such as “The store is giving away free tickets” are tautological.

However, not everything is negative about tautology. It is used in poetry, prose, and songs. For the curious minds, you may consult this page on examples of tautology as a literary device:



The Pavel Terminology Tutorial. Tautology

The Beye Network. Business Metadata: How to Write Definitions.

Literary Devices: Tautology

Your dictionary. Examples of Tautology


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