SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Tautologies and self-fulfilling prophecies.


Welcome to another installment of SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS, a regular Wednesday feature at NA Confidential.

But why all these new words?

Why not the old, familiar, comforting words?

It’s because a healthy vocabulary isn’t about intimidation through erudition. Rather, it’s about selecting the right word and using it correctly, whatever one’s pay grade or station in life.

Even municipal corporate attorneys engorged with remuneration are eligible for this enlightening expansion of personal horizons, and really, for those of us who want nothing more than to grasp City Hall’s timidity in assisting pedestrians to cross the street, all we have is dead time — and the opportunity to learn something.

This paragraph appeared in a recent Esquire article on the potential return to television of Jon Stewart.

(Stewart) called attention to the Republican business model so frequently cited by Esquire’s Charles Pierce: Tell people government doesn’t work, then go to Washington and prove it. It’s a “tautology,” Stewart said, and a searingly effective one that has convinced enough people that the only way to change the system is to blow it up. That has produced the populism of Bernie Sanders, but it has also fueled Trump’s rise.

What’s a tautology?



noun, plural tautologies.

1. needless repetition of an idea, especially in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness, as in “widow woman.”

2. an instance of such repetition.

3. Logic. a compound propositional form all of whose instances are true, as “A or not A.”.
an instance of such a form, as “This candidate will win or will not win.”

While I can see Stewart’s (and Pierce’s) point in using the word “tautology” in the context of repetition, something about it strikes me as skewed. To me, what the GOP does is an example of self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a concept borrowed from the study of sociology.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior. Although examples of such prophecies can be found in literature as far back as ancient Greece and ancient India, it is 20th-century sociologist Robert K. Merton who is credited with coining the expression “self-fulfilling prophecy” and formalizing its structure and consequences. In his 1948 article Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Merton defines it in the following terms:

The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.

In other words, a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy.

Then again, I’m no linguist. Call it tautology, or call it self-fulfilling prophecy — just be sure to vote against Republicans displaying tendencies toward it.