Is "Reiterate" Redundant?

I named my app Reiterate because it repeats audio clips back to you, and you repeat the clips back to the app. Some people, however, are confused by the very word reiterate.

Their confusion stems from the fact that iterate means to say again, and so the re- would seem to be redundant. I suppose they would prefer people to say that they iterated some phrase.

According to Mirriam-Webster, iterate and reiterate mean the same thing. This hasn’t stopped self-appointed language mavens from declaring one or the other unnecessary. There’s a slew of words that seem to offend some people in the same way some people are offended if you put ketchup on a steak, or wear white after Labor Day.

Actual linguists, that is, people who study language scientifically, know that language is a living, dynamic thing, and that often times the best way to figure out if something is grammatical or not is to just try it and see how it feels to you. Humans have an instinct for language, and learning to listen to that instinct can help guide you in the face of know-it-all language busybodies.

Here’s what my language instinct tells me. Iterate and Reiterate are two different things. I use iteration to refer to cold, mechanical repetition, like loops in a computer program. A program can iterate through several values; it feels strange to say that a computer program reiterates. Conversely, I use reiterate to indicate a repetition with some force of will, a pointed repetition, where the act of repetition itself is meant to convey importance beyond what is merely being repeated. I would reiterate a warning to someone who is thinking about consuming wild mushrooms they found on a hike; it would feel strange to iterate that warning.

There is an interesting parallel between reiterate and inflammable. Inflammable actually derives from the latin inflamare (to burst into flames). People falsely assume the in- prefix is the same in- as in invincible and invisible, but that’s just a coincidence. What if the re- was not the same re- as in redo and refurbish, but it came from somewhere else?

There is another interesting case in the term refried beans. The re- in refried does not mean again; refried beans are not fried twice. Instead, it comes from the Spanish refritos, which means deep fried. I like to think of the re- in reiterate in the same way – to reiterate something is to repeat it, with force.

I like using Reiterate as the name for my app because it’s meant to use repetition in exactly that forceful way. Reiterate (the app) is designed to make an impression, to help you mold your mind into the shape you desire.

This question was first answered in the Reiterate FAQ but I decided to expand on the answer here in the blog since it seems to get a lot of traffic.

Comments and Webmentions

You can respond to this post using Webmentions. If you published a response to this elsewhere,

You can also reply on Twitter