Petri Dishes: Tautology is tautology

Aug 11, 2020

Hello all! Happy Tuesday! Let's converse!

I am hopelessly culturally out of touch. I hate the internet and social media stuff like Facechat and Snapbook, whatever those are. The only reason I can get on the web right now is because my dog is helping me on his iPad. What can be done?

Your dog is helping you on his iPad? This is the million-dollar solution! Now that you've found a canine companion capable of offering technical support, the demand for adult children will vastly decrease. The market may never recover. Also, my basic attitude is that if you are not feeling a lack of the things on the Internet you don't encounter, then don't worry about it! Maybe you have one of those rich, full in-person lives that we all hear so much about. 

How do I prevent poll workers from learning I am a robot? Nowadays we robots look more like Data than Rosie Jetson. Often, I find myself having to “prove” to web sites that I am not a robot. By checking boxes depicting traffic lights, or a fire hydrant, or a dog relieving itself on a fire hydrant, I have been able to resolve every web site’s existential crisis. But a tougher test is anticipated on voting machines in November. To protect my right as a robot to vote, should I request an absentee ballot?

I always wonder why we think robots -- or AIs (A's I?) more generally -- wouldn't be able to identify a stop light in a picture.  Alan Turing would never! But then I start trying to imagine the alternative, and the thought of having to write an essay about what I like most about being human, or having to solve some sort of Voight-Kampff -- I am not sure I would thrillingly succeed at that either. 

And, er, don't vote if you're a robot! I am not unsympathetic to your claim, but having a robot bring a legal challenge to urge the robot's right to democratic participation feels like the One More Thing that we don't need with this year's election. 

I've noticed that in Disaster Movies, the women's legs are all magically smooth even in the roughest conditions and I would like to lodge a complaint.

I saw a post about this on Tumblr! As it pointed out, wait until you see Viking women's eyebrows! 

Alexandra: Do you think President Trump listens to music? What would his play list consist of? I know he makes a point of playing "Tiny Dancer," at his rallies, but I can't even begin to grasp the connection. (Maybe it's a tune that, say, Roy Cohn turned him on to, back in the '70's?) Anyway, I'm at a loss on his Hit Parade. Wayne Newton? 1930's-era German marching songs? Sex Pistols? Any thoughts you and your listeners might be able to share would be greatly appreciated. Signed: Sonic Dissonance

This is an interesting one! Having covered a few Trump rallies in the past, I was always intrigued by his decision to end with "You Can't Always Get What You Want." I think it's less a genre than a feeling and general time period. 

As I write this, on Monday morning, there's a red banner ad across the top of the Post's homepage for a certain brand of cat food. It is too similar to the red breaking-news banner that appears atop the home page whenever news breaks -- most often, these days, when Trump has said or done some awful or stupid thing. So the cat food ad keeps causing me alarm. Please use your powers at the Post to get the ad taken down. Alternatively, please use your powers within the cat food industry to change the color of the banner. (A nice, cooling light blue would work well, I think.)


I went to the homepage to see what you were talking about but instead I had a new Samsung something advertised to me, and it did not seem to possess the same urgency. 

Caught your amusing letter from NRA to a prospective supporter when the last line: "...want want to know..."? Cheers and keep up the good good writing.

Oh, oops! Thank thank you!

what the difference of pencil or agrifte pencil next pen or ink

Agrifte pencil is the pencil you use to convince a man on a train to invest in your lucrative, can't-fail "money box" scheme. 

Can you put a positive spin on the "It is what it is." comment by Trump in response to the HBO interview question about the U.S. Covid death rate? Pretend your his press secretary and go...

This is actually a positive development because it reveals a willingness to accept an "it" that "is"! The media, always ranting and raving about the president being untethered from reality, is hypocritical to criticize this remark and they all should feel bad. 

Loved your L'Engle-esque reverie!

Thanks! That's a high compliment! 

Is this where you make a faux pas de deux?

Ha! You get one pointe. 

Times that I teach over Zoom, my cat jumps onto my lap and sticks her face into the monitor. For the remainder of class, whenever I begin to answer their questions, students say, "no, no, what does Annabel think?" How may I reclaim my authority, if I had any to begin with? Sincerely, Litter Pan Scraper

What does Annabel think? 

What about "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" from the Sound of Music. "The sun on the meadow is summery gold, the stag in the forest runs free. But somewhere a glory awaits unseen, tomorrow belongs to me." or something like that. SAD!

I thought that was from Cabaret! 

Consider buying a cat-resistant computer?

Trump said a tautology. But I bet you a million dollars he has no idea what that word means. He'd probably just say "it means what it means."

And he'd be right! Our old Post slogan was a tautology: "if you don't get it, you don't get it." 

Trump strikes me as a Sinatra kind of guy.

Dr Fauci recommends goggles or eye shields for COVID protection. I bought goggles, but geez they look plain. Maybe stick some eyelashes on them for flair?

I am in favor of flair. I am not in favor of the clear, "easy-to-drink-through" masks that allow people to see your smile, but I am in favor of most other forms of flair. 

Nope. A tautology "the saying of the same thing twice in different words, generally considered to be a fault of style." This is saying a different thing in the same words, and is an obvious joke. I can't remember the name of the kind of joke, though -- something to do with semantics. Like, "Time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana."

What is saying the same thing twice in the same words, then? A typo? 

Those who fail to get tired of musicals are doomed to play them repeatedly.

I was all set to correct that other chatter who defined tautology as a redundancy, because everyone knows that a tautology is a statement that cannot be false under any circumstances. But I learned that "tautology" has a different meaning in linguistics than in logic, and that the latter borrowed the name of the former. I am surprised to learn this, but also not surprised to learn that some of your chatters think of language before they think of logic.

Neither am I! The Vulcan chat is down the hall. 

It’s a border collie, right?

In the field of logic, your tautologies are tautologies.

It's clear the poster just Googled the definition and picked what appears at top. But according to M-W a tautology is "needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word."

You can say that again! 

-person who loves tautologies

Your rival paper in New York City bears the slogan "All the News That's Fit Is All the News That's Fit, So That's All You're Getting."

As lucid as it is concise!

Can't I just come an hear the music? Or do I have to listen to it play?

I'm sorry, we're bound by the lyric. You must hear it play, or no deal. 

Double edged words?

It seems as though we're now repeating ourselves ourselves! I had better scuttle off lunchwards. I hope you have a splendid week, stay safe, and I'll see you on the blog and Twitter! 

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
Recent Chats
  • Next: