Saturday, July 25, 2015

Informative tautologies

Technically, for a logician, or a semanticist of the Snow-is-White school, tautologies convey no information;  but to linguists and pragmaticians, in context they often do.  In fact, we may state that they usually do, since otherwise why utter them?  “Business is business” is flint-hearted;  “Boys will be boys”, tenderly exculpatory.

The opposite of an utterance that pretends to contain no information (and thus, in particular, to be inexpugnable) but actually does (and often of a trenchant sort), is a definition that, ex cathedra, is all about informing, but which melts to the touch.  Cf. our essay here:

A recent example of the uses of tautology:

Robert Buissière on Médi1, re the  (presumable eventual) Presidential front-runners (after the Trumpwad has been flushed):

Jeb Bush, frère de son frère,
et Hillary Clinton,  épouse de son époux.

As they stand, these are “analytic”; but we understand the import:  Jeb and Hillary got where they are today, largely owing to family association.

Cf. & contrast the common expression “He is his father’s son.”  Normally this means that he takes after his Dad, and not that he is getting any special favors from other people owing to that filiation.  To imply the latter, you might say “Daddy’s little boy” or something.  By contrast, the French phrases in the above context  do not imply that Jeb’s politics are a close match to Dubya’s, let alone that Hillary’s are a close match to Bill’s.

For the full essay to which that is an appendix, click here:

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