Q&A: Plan ahead! A conversational chat about tautology.

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One of our Australian Writers’ Centre community recently asked us to clarify the use of the term “plan ahead” as being somewhat redundant. This led to more examples of tautology and somehow a party invitation…

Q: Hi there AWC. I want to talk to you about the term “Plan Ahead”. I can’t help noticing that there really isn’t any other kind of planning you could do – you’d hardly “plan behind”… Am I right?
A: Great point! You’ve spotted one of the more commonly used examples of “tautology”.

Q: Tautology huh? I think I might have taken that in high school. With Mr Simons? C block?
A: Probably not. But it is a fascinating area. (Tautology that is, not C block; that was always shabby.) Tautology occurs when you have a phrase that repeats itself – with two (or more) words effectively saying the same thing. One is rendered redundant by the other.

Q: Hey, when I was 10, my dad was rendered redundant by some guy they flew in from America. There was no advance warning, apparently some joint partnership between the companies. They just gathered together each and every one of them in close proximity, told them the honest truth that the vote had been completely unanimous and that the US bosses in charge couldn’t keep commuting back and forth and the end result was that they had to cut back and close down. Dad’s future prospects weren’t great, no added bonus or anything. But I’m guessing you meant something different.
A: Well, we did. But you just used 14 tautologies in that trip down memory lane.

Q: Seriously? I think you’re over-exaggerating.
A: 15 now.

Q: Wow, okay, so they really ARE everywhere. But are they acceptable?
A: Well, some are just clunky. You shouldn’t ever want to write “say it again once more” or “a sad misfortune”. And yet others have found their way through the side door of usage. Things like “positive affirmations”, “new innovation”, “armed gunman” or “first priority” you’ll see and hear all the time. Then you have the modified absolutes like “most quintessential”, “very unique” or “completely destroyed” etc. They happen. If the English language was a law-abiding nation, then these tautologies would probably represent jaywalking.

Q: Hmmmm. But it’s lazy.
A: Absolutely – and just like stepping out into traffic at your leisure, it’s something you should avoid doing, or one day you’ll get hit. However it’s also something that won’t ever be eradicated. Yes it’s a double up, and mildly annoying, but certainly not up there with mixing “your” and “you’re” – that’s more akin to an armed assault.

Q: True I guess. Now, you’ve just slid a piece of paper over to me asking me to enquire about whether there are acronyms that commit tautologies.
A: Great question! Wow, you’re on fire today. There definitely are. First example, your “PIN Number”…

Q: 9124
A: No no, lalalalalalaaa. We didn’t WANT the number. We’re simply saying that “PIN” already has “number” as the “N” word in the acronym, so you’re basically saying “Personal Identification Number number”.

Q: Oops, how embarrassing. Lucky I only have a $100 dollar limit.
A: That’s another sneaky one actually – the dollar sign was already there, so use either “100 dollar limit” or “$100 limit”, not both. Back on acronyms, other examples include “ATM Machine”, “GPS System” or even “Please RSVP” because “Respondez, s’il vous plait” already translates as “respond please”.

Q: Great. Now I have to go and change all my party invites.
A: We’d suggest not to worry – it’s a common thing. What time does it say the party starts?

Q: 11 a.m. in the morning.
A: Okay, shred them all. Because that one is our pet hate. For example, “I arrived at five a.m. in the morning” – well duh, there is no five a.m. in the afternoon! Either just use “5 a.m.” or “five in the morning”, never both.

Q: Hmmm…Five is probably a bit early; it’s more of a lunch thing. But you’ve raised a good point. Perhaps tautologies are sometimes snuck in for emphasis. To really hammer home a point.
A: Yep, there are clumsy ones that you should avoid, and there are others which would probably get let off with a warning. However, we’re good law-abiding citizens, so we’ll make sure we avoid using “Plan Ahead” in the future. It’s our “free gift” to you!

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