• tautology •
Pronunciation: taw-tah-lê-jee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A redundant phrase, a phrase with a repeated meaning, such as a female girl, an unmarried bachelor, a dead corpse. 2. Two phrases in a statement that make the statement true regardless whether either of the phases is true: "Linguistics will either make me smarter or not make me smarter."
Notes: A tautology is the opposite of an oxymoron, two words that contradict each other, such as the living dead. The words of a tautology mean the same thing: a dead corpse is a tautology because corpse itself means "dead". The adjectives in phrases like tiny speck, ATM machine, PIN number, a true fact, close proximity are all tautological.
In Play: Today's Good Word is a more precise substitute for redundant when you hear phrases like waffling politician, greedy corporate executive, sneaky lobbyist: "That's tautological," fits the situation more closely. This word can also add variety where we would otherwise use "X is his/her middle name", too: "It would be tautological to say that Dunham Wright is a decent person; "decency" is his middle name."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the English version of Greek tautologos "redundant", made up of tautos "identical" + logos "word, idea". The Greek word logos gave English logic and the suffix (o)logy, which we freely attach to words of all ilks these days. Logos is the noun from the verb legein "to speak, talk", whose root we find in lexicon (leg-sikon), lecture, and legend. This root came down to Old Germanic as *lekjaz "enchanter" (someone who uses magic words), which was laece "physician, doctor" by the time it reached Old English. Today? In Modern English it refers to an old, primitive medical device—the leech. (Would it be tautological to say a grateful readership is thankful to Michael Oberndorf for suggesting today's Good Word? Well, it wouldn't overexpress our gratitude.)