Sunday, 22 July 2012

Mock drill defines tautology as the unnecessary repetition of an idea, especially in different words; for example, a good-looking beautiful woman. 

A few days ago I came across an example of it in The Times of India:
A mock drill was conducted at New Delhi railway station on Wednesday to check the preparedness of various agencies in responding to emergency situations.

A drill is an exercise, not a real emergency; mock means the same thing, so there is no need to add it.  

Here are some more instances:
  • past experience
  • major disaster
  • repeat again
  • free gift
There are many more which are equally common and have almost become fixed expressions which we use without thinking.


  1. I can see some reasons for the evolution of such phrases:

    1. Differentiation
    (a) consider that there are many sorts of experiences - recent, immediate, past ...
    (b) disasters vary: major disaster (tsunami), minor disaster (our neighborhood flooded)

    2. Emphasis
    Some languages use little words to show emphasis, "iku ze" [Japanese] "look, I'm leaving!" [English].
    Saying "repeat again" is away of saying "Look! I am repeating myself".

    Language is more than the logic of the "actual" meanings of the words -- words have many functions outside of meaning: tone, allusions, sounds and more.

    So, could you imagine ways "mock drill" could evolve to be more than just a silly tautology? I can.

    Like you, I love language. Nice to meet you.

    1. Sabio, thanks for your comments and nice to meet you too :-)

      I understand what you mean by differentiation and your examples do make sense. Nevertheless, "experience" is usually good enough; one need not say "past experience". Or perhaps "early experience" can be used instead.

      However I don't agree that such phrases are a way of showing emphasis.

      Coming to "mock drill", how is this different from "drill"?

  2. another example:
    "repeat again" could mean:
    I repeated myself 10 minutes ago and I am again going to repeat myself.

    Concerning drills, consider:
    practice drill
    mock drill
    rehearsal drill

    All are tautology, but perhaps it is like "really, really good" -- redundancy for emphasis.
    Point: language events evolve for reasons -- not just from pure stupidity. To not understand that, is to not understand language.

  3. Feel free to visit my posts on "Linguistics" -- click my name to see my site.

  4. Quite often "repeat again" is used even when someone is asked to repeat something for the first time; that is what I am referring to. However, if something is to be repeated a second time, then of course it's correct.

    I am afraid I don't see any difference in the drills that you mentioned. "Practice" and "rehearsal" are synonymous. "Mock" means "simulated / feigned". Merriam-Webster defines "drill" as "a physical or mental exercise aimed at perfecting facility and skill especially by regular practice". So, one can simply say "rehearsal" or "practice" or "drill" without any change of meaning.

    On the other hand, "really, really good" is perfectly fine by me. I don't think of it as an example of tautology.

    My point is that Indians sometimes take liberties with the English language for no good reason and tautology is an example of it (of course, this happens in other parts of the English-speaking world as well but this blog is concerned mainly with the use of English in India).

    For instance, take a look at my previous entry which talks about the increasing use of "post" as a preposition. "After" works perfectly as a preposition, so using "post" in its place does not serve any purpose nor does it add a different shade of meaning. Hence, I partly disagree with your statement that "language events evolve for reasons -- not just from pure stupidity".

    To a certain degree, language changes due to misuse of words as a result of ignorance or lack of interest in correct usage. Sometimes the wrong meaning of a word or expression takes root and over a period of time the original meaning is forgotten.