Tautology: Needless repetition

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Tautology: Needless repetition

From English Composition and Rhetoric by Alexander Bain.


I. Synonymous words and phrases

Tautology means the repetition, often needless, of the same sense in different words.
“In the Attic commonwealth, it was the privilege and birthright of every citizen and poet, to rail aloud and in public.Swift
The meaning is the same as, it was the privilege of every citizen to rail in public.
In another example from Addison:
The dawn is overcast; the morning lowers, And heavily in clouds brings on the day.
These three clauses all express the same fact.

II. Normally to be avoided

Often tautologies simply reflect sloppiness of style. It is desirable to avoid such tautologies as the standard pattern, the verdant green, some few,” and other redundancies that add words but no new meaning.
In the same way, excess of inflection is a type of grammatical tautology to be avoided: as chiefest, extremest, worser, most highest.

III. Can be used intentionally

A. Use when one word does not express the full sense intended.

No two words are exactly synonymous for all purposes; one has a shade that the other wants, and it may take the intentional use both to give the whole meaning. Hence we are accustomed to such phrases as ways and means, passing and transitory, subject-matter. In legal documents synonymous words are joined for the sake of exhaustive completeness. When Wordsworth couples the vision and the faculty divine, he intends that the two phrases, which are nearly alike, should unfold between them a greater amount of meaning than either conveys.

B. Use for the sake of greater emphasis.

Good exposition requires that the main subject should be distinguished from the subordinate parts. This is effected, among other ways, by intentionally dwelling longer upon it. In that case, repetition by means of equivalent phrases may be resorted to. The head and front of his offending the end and design.

C. Use to reflect strong passion.

Chatham's famous address abounds in tautologies, but they work because they are used intentionally to stir the emotions of his audience.
“I am astonished, I am shocked, to hear such principles confessed; to hear them avowed in this house and in this country.” 
Affection and admiration may lead to similar intentional repetitions.
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