Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fun With Tautology


I've mentioned in earlier posts that my reading is often at the mercy of whatever happens to come through the check-in station. Ask any library employee. It happens to all of us. Shelving is dangerous enough but at check-in we see books that are on their way back to their home branches, books we aren't likely to discover through browsing the catalog.

The ones that catch my eye are usually related to either humor or language. One such book showed up in the bookdrop and it has entertained me mightily for the last week, Armed Gunmen, True Facts and Other Ridiculous Nonsense by Richard Kallan, a book described as "a compendium of repetitive redundancies." The author points out tautological errors that are common to American speech and writing, errors made by even the most respected writers, newscasters, and bloggers.

A tautology (I learned) is a phrase in which the modifying language repeats the meaning of word being modified, an example being Armed Gunmen. Would unarmed gunmen simply lack arms? Would they still be gunmen? You see the problem with this, don't you?

I've enjoyed reading the book because it's more than a collection of lists. Each tautology includes a definition, often a really funny definition, that makes clear why the phrase is a tautology. One of my favorites is Planned Conspiracy, "a conspiracy devoid of spontaneity." Another is Laugh Out Loud, "the most outspoken way of laughing". I am so guilty of using that one but at least I'm in good company. I've read that tautology in many a book review.

But now that I ponder this, I don't often laugh truly out loud but, instead, laugh more through my nose, short outward bursts of amused breath. It takes something hilarious to get an actual voice-powered laugh out of me. Laugh Out Loud and its definition suits me just fine.

Armed Gunmen is wonderful reading, good for many a snicker. How about these: Foreign Import (an import that hasn't been domesticated), Three-Sided Triangle (welcome to remedial math), or Shared Dialogue (more conversational than a shared monologue.) Some tautologies, such as that last one, have what the author calls Close Relatives: conversational dialogue, interactive dialogue, two-way conversation. I also like Disorganized Mess (a mess that's poorly designed and engineered) and Drunken Sot (a sot committed to leaving a memorable impression.)

Ridiculous Nonsense (nonsense unencumbered by thoughtful analysis.)
Tough Challenge (a challenge from the wrong side of the track.)
Jewish Rabbi (more authentic than a Catholic rabbi.)

I must buy this book.

Reading Armed Gunmen, especially on the heels of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips, has made me painfully aware of my own writing. This blog is great fun but I clearly need to do more self-editing.

Loosely related to the aforementioned tautology, I recently learned that there's an app for the iPhone called iLaughOutLoud. I don't own an iPhone. If I did, I wouldn't load it up with superfluous apps, but I could be tempted by that one.

Overheard on Twitter: Chinese Year of the Cow: mad cow disease. Year of the Chicken: bird flu. Year of the Pig: swine flu. 2012: Year of the Dragon.

Next time: A New Year. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

info said...

Thanks for the kind words about Armed Gunmen, True Facts, and Other Ridiculous Nonsense. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

Rich Kallan