Do you like a bit of tautology? Most of us do, either consciously or not, or so it seems by the amount of repetition or redundant words that we use in the course of our daily lives. How many times have you said, “It is what it is”, or talked about “over exaggeration”, “sad misfortune”, “giving away free tickets” or “a necessary requirement for the job”?
Politicians often fall prey to a touch of tautology; it won’t surprise you to learn. And speech writers would take issue with the accusation of redundancy, claiming instead that as a rhetorical device, it can grab the audience’s attention and emphasise the significance of the subject. George W. Bush was particularly keen to urge the nation to “come together to unite”, whilst his father, George H. W. Bush is remembered for, “the undecideds could go one way or another”.
Waves of invasion
The real fun starts, however, with place names when they incorporate more than one language. This happens with successive waves of invasion and/or linguistic domination by one group after another. Thus, Lake Tahoe is actually Lake Lake because ‘lake’ is ‘tahoe’ in the native American language of the area. The Sahara Desert is Desert Desert because ‘sahara’ is ‘desert’ in Arabic, and the River Avon is River River because ‘river’ in Welsh is ‘afon’. Finally, and a little closer to home, at least for me, is Torpenhow in Cumbria where ‘torr’, ‘penn’ and ‘haugr’ all mean ‘hill’ in, respectively, Old English, Old Welsh and Old Norse.
An apocryphal tale would suggest that this is a unique example of ‘quadruple redundancy’, claiming that there is a location close to the village known as ‘Torpenhow Hill’; but despite much scrutiny of Ordnance Survey maps of the area, there seems sadly no substance to this assertion.