Whether Verbal or Visual, Affirmative or Negative, Tautologies are Not Tautologies

Rachel Giora, Ofer Fein, Vered Heruti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In this paper we test the hypothesis that tautologies (An X is an X; X is X) are actually not tautologies (i.e., not repetitive). Indeed, when exploring natural language use, it seems that, having expressed such “uninformative” statements, speakers, most often, spell out their specific intended interpretation, rendering these messages informative (Section 2). Visual/pictorial tautologies are also informative; either they allow the observers to come up with their own interpretation, or often, the artists use language to spell out the intended message (Section 3). Whether in language or in picture, artists tend to deautomatize the familiar, thereby rendering tautologies Optimally Innovative. Additionally, they often produce tautologies that convey figurative messages, whether metaphorical or sarcastic, thus allowing these tautologies to be highly creative (Section 5). Tautologies, then, communicate innovative messages, even when implicitly so. In fact, tautologies may often covertly reject the default salient meaning, while explicitly enlarging on it by using a novel, nondefault alternative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-121
Number of pages25
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation grant (no. 540/19) to Rachel Giora. We are most grateful to all the students who participated in running the Experiments. We are also very grateful to Dr. Israela Becker for collecting naturally occurring tautological examples from HeTenTen corpus, and to Elad Livnat who collected tautological examples from Israeli newspapers. We are also much obliged to Michal Na’aman for granting us permission to display her artworks in our article, as well as to Noemi Givon, a director of Givon Gallery, for granting us permission to publish Raffi Lavie’s artworks, and also to Mira Maylor for allowing us to display her artwork in this article. Last but not least, we greatly appreciate the reviewer of this article for his most helpful comments and insights.

FundersFunder number
HeTenTen corpus
Israel Science Foundation540/19


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