Implicatures of the week

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Marcus Hayes, "Eagles players, including A.J. Brown, say ‘No thanks’ to Odell Beckham Jr.", The Philadelphia Inquirer 12/8/2022:

The question was simple. A.J. Brown, the Eagles’ $100 million No. 1 receiver, understood all of its ramifications and implications.

Would injured free-agent receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a diva’s diva, fit in with the culture and chemistry that has helped the Eagles start the season 11-1? After all, malcontent running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, preseason and deadline additions, nested nicely with the Birds during the Super Bowl run in the 2017 season.

“I think OBJ would be … would be OK to be … I mean, why not?” Brown told me.

He adjusted his hoodie. He smiled.

The obvious interpretation is similar to a well-documented type of conversatonal implicature, though in this case the negative implicatum is conveyed more by hesitancy and vagueness than by irrelevant specificity.

Later in the same article, we get an apparent tautology with a clear non-tautological implication:

The Rams handled Beckham fine. If Beckham is ever foisted upon them, the Eagles would handle him, too, said Fletcher Cox.

“We let everyone who comes into this building know: The way we do things around here is the way we do things around here,” Cox said.

Web search for "the way we do things around here"  offers a clue about what Cox meant, but there's still a step from "Our culture is our culture" to "our culture is well defined and newcomers need to adapt to it", or however exactly we should interpret Cox's statement.

It's common to see phrases of the form "X is X" used in various meaningful ways, but I haven't come across many analyses by linguists or philosophers.  In  "On Meaningful Tautologies" (Anthropological Linguistics 1986), Sol Saporta analyzes a variety of relevant examples, including

Business is business.
Your father is your father.
Dwight Gooden is Dwight Gooden.
Boys will be boys.
What's done is done.
It ain't over 'til it's over.
If it rains, it rains.
Everybody is somebody, but nobody is nobody.
Los sueños, sueños son.

Perhaps commenters will be able to point us to other discussions of such examples.



  1. Cervantes said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 7:55 am

    Que será, será.

  2. david said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 8:10 am


  3. Kai von Fintel said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 8:27 am

    I recommend: Ward, Gregory L. & Julia Hirschberg. 1991. A pragmatic analysis of tautological utternances [sic, KvF]. Journal of Pragmatics 15(6). 507–520.

    And the many citations to it that Google Scholar provides:

  4. ycx said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 8:28 am

    What about this? Mix of engrish and tautology.

  5. Don Keyser said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 12:24 pm

    Then there is the now ubiquitous "It is what it is" — originating with athletes, especially basketball players, and soon spreading out to the broader community. Classically offered with a shrug of resignation, sometimes a semi-belligerent shrug, in response to queries by sports journalists about the reason for a loss, poor performance, etc. Not so different in its essential meaning from the Chinese 沒有辦法 [meiyou banfa] or the Japanese しかたがない [shikata ga nai] — "it can't be helped," or "there's nothing to be done about it." One should note that Shakespeare reportedly employed the phrase in one of his sonnets (alas, I lack the reference if such truly exists) and that "it is what it is" has been voted the "most gag-inducing phrase." The last would have my personal vote, if not for "the most" then as least for being a strong "contendah."

  6. Jonathan Smith said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 1:07 pm

    re: "it is what it is", quite to the contrary it seems to be originally the fanciest of the fancy Sartre/Derrida/Lacan-type language. Re: the current currency *cough*, the internets suggest we can thank The Sopranos (I haven't seen it.) How the mighty have fallen if so :D

  7. Gregory Kusnick said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 1:56 pm

    "it is what it is" has been voted the "most gag-inducing phrase."

    Thus proving that people who don't like it don't like it.

  8. John From Cincinnati said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 4:14 pm

    A rose is a rose is a rose. Wikipedia article here. UPenn Electronic Poetry Center article here.

  9. Dick Enzyan said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 4:37 pm

    Here is an example of a slightly more elaborate form of tautology (in a book review or similar):
    "People who like this sort of thing will find this is the sort of thing they like."
    Not sure if there are more examples like this.

  10. AntC said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 5:25 pm

    People who like this sort of thing … will find it's the sort of thing that gets attributed to all sorts of people, mostly falsely.

    It's the standard put-down phrase for a reviewer trying to tip the wink to the 'elite' part of the readership without actually insulting all the others who buy the newspaper.

  11. Chester Draws said,

    December 10, 2022 @ 7:03 pm

    "Enough is enough", is a common tautology.

    But "a dollar is a dollar" isn't, because it means a dollar not spent is a dollar still possessed.

  12. David Nash said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 2:21 am

    Wierzbicka, Anna. 1987. Boys will be boys: ‘Radical semantics’ vs. ‘Radical pragmatics’. Language 63(1). 95–114.

    Fraser, Bruce. 1988. Motor oil is motor oil: An account of English nominal tautologies. Journal of Pragmatics 12(2). 215–220.

    Wierzbicka, Anna. 1988. Boys will be boys: A rejoinder to Bruce Fraser. Journal of Pragmatics 12(2). 221–224.

  13. Rob Grayson said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 7:24 am

    An example from the UK, coined by former prime minister Teresa May and heard a lot in the media and political commentary in the years following the fateful Brexit vote: "Brexit means Brexit". Widely derided (appropriately, IMHO) for being pretty much meaningless – which is probably why it became something of a political lightning rod.

  14. David P said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 12:24 pm

    Every parent: "No means no!"

  15. Charlie Hallinan said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 12:31 pm

    The Wire tautology supercut ("The game is the game"):

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