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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Iterating and Reiterating all over again

Via my Statcounter, I know that I usually get between 50 and 75 unique hits per day, particularly on weekdays and days in which I post a new article. I don't know how many of those hits are regular readers and how many are random hits from people who get to my blog via some salacious search. I suppose I could sit down with my the Statcounter report and figure it out, but really, who has time for that?

As an aside, those of you who don't visit Bunsnip via a feed reader might have noticed that I have a new Followers widget in the left-hand margin. I'm not sure if I'm going to keep it or not, just experimenting so far. It could be a way for my actual regular readers to distinguish themselves from the voyeurs who are just looking to get a glimpse of the Tree Man (even though his picture is no longer glimpse-able, so don't bother clicking on that link).

It was a toss up between using the Followers widget and the Recent Visitors widget from The Blog Frog. My issue with the Blog Frog widget is that you can't opt in or out of showing up as a visitor on that. Basically anyone who is listed in my blog roll will show up in the Recent Visitors widget when they visit Bunsnip whether they want to show up or not. I'm not completely comfortable with that. (But the Blog Frog is otherwise totally cool, as evidenced by my support sticker. Thanks, Rusty!)

My Daily Read and Must-Read Blog lists are my way of showing support for the sites that I enjoy reading, and I see the Followers widget as a way for my readers to voluntarily show support for Bunsnip without all the Big Brother business. It doesn't track when you visit, it just lists you as a follower. You can choose to follow either anonymously or publicly (or not at all). So if you feel inclined to do that, please join Claire, my sole follower so far. She looks awfully lonely over there. Or not, I won't cry if you don't. Claire might, though.

Anyway, that totally wasn't the point of this post. So I'll get to that right now:

The Point: iterate & reiterate

As my Statcounter tells me, today alone I have had five hits from individuals searching for "the difference between iterate and reiterate". FIVE. That's a lot of hits for something like that in one day. The hits came from Malaysia, the UK, Cleveland, Toronto, and Durham, Connecticut. Clearly there is much confusion across the world about the difference between iterate and reiterate. I too have such confusion.

Quite awhile ago I posted a very brief query to my then scant number of blog readers asking whether anyone, anyone at all, could explain to me the difference between iterate and reiterate. According to the dictionary, they mean exactly the same thing. So why the re- prefix? Doesn't the prefix re- usually imply doing something again?

Well that makes this particularly difficult, because iterate and reiterate both mean "to do something again". So because of the re-, it looks like iterate should mean "to do something again", and reiterate should mean "to do something again, repeatedly".

As Feed the World with PEZ commented in the original post:

Iterate is to do or say again repeatedly (probably more than once). Reiterate is to do or say again repeatedly to the point of excessiveness (probably more than twice)... Hey, that's all I've got!

Pretty good answer, but I'm still unsatisfied. Why the hell do we need two words for this? So now that there are between 50 and 75 of you readers out there, you would do a great service to me and some people in Malaysia, the UK, Cleveland, Toronto, and Durham if you could weigh in on this puzzlement.

If we have to, we can vote one of the duplicative words out of the English language. My vote is to kick out iterate. Sure, reiterate is more redundant than iterate, but reiterate is the more commonly used, so it'd be easier to kick out the other one.

What say ye?

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Trovan said...

I'm generally not much of a follower, but I'll make an exception this one time...

The bane of a living language is pointless redundancy (one of them at least). My guess is that the original word was 'iterate' and it morphed into 'reiterate'. And now we get both words to confuse us. That's my theory, anyway.

B.R. said...

By virtue of what I do, my cognitive response to your suggestion to do away with the less used lexeme, is somewhat curbed by caution. I'm not taking pride in the syntax of the first sentence, by the way. Well, think of it as an example of semantics taking priority over syntax.
Sacrebleu! I didn't just pick a side right about now!
Anyway, there are a great many items out there that are not high-frequency, yet they add so much to Language [capitalized on purpose]. What would one do without words like cornucopia, or exegesis, or logorrhea.... [random choices, btw]? So, I vote 'yes' on 'iterate.'
Plus, the etymology reveals much, no? Per my understanding, 'reiterate' is quite modern. It's only a 15-th century occurrence....
And we need to respect the elders. In language too.....
Thanks for an excellent post. Much enjoyed it.

Ben Sloan said...

I read your shit every day. LOVE ME FOR IT!

Sra said...

Trovan: I agree with your theory. Except that maybe the beauty of language is pointless redundancy. Beautiful in its headache-inducing qualities. Thanks for being a follower ;)

B.R.: Thanks for a great comment, I much enjoyed it, first sentence syntax and all. I agree with you about words like cornucopia, exegesis, and logorrhea, even though I only know what 1.5 of those words mean :) But, first we must ask whether these words are redundant with any other words (and I don't know if they are), and then we must ask whether they sound almost exactly the same as the words with which they are redundant. Then we have a fair comparison! Seriously, though, I appreciate your appreciation for Language [capitalized on purpose as well] diversity.

Ben: I do love you for it. Thank you. And I would read you every day if you posted every day. Where have you been?

Ben Sloan said...

I know, I know, I've been worthless. I'll flagellate myself in repentance.

In the mean time, you stirred me to action, and I just made a new post. You've done your good deed for the day!

The Over-Thinker said...

Sra--seriously, I think you need to have a category called: "Let Me Teach You How to Talk Good"

Hand-to-God...I learn more from you blog than I did in school.

Sra said...

Thanks, O-T. I am a linguaphile, that's why I get all grammary over here from time to time.

Some of the best learning in life is done outside the confines of school.

Claire said...

OK, my personal take on this has always been as follows:

1) Iterate is used for distinctive repetitions designed to track changes in the flow of a given system over time, or to systematically repeat events until one gets what one wants, e.g. buying scratch-off lottery tickets or, in chaos theory, where seemingly identical scenarios produce wildly different (or maddeningly similar) outcomes due to nigh-on imperceptible shifts within the matrices of said scenario's execution. Therefore, you can refer to "iterations" as "instances," e.g, "In the fifth iteration, we see that Tom's foot landed squarely on the crack in the cement, shifting the grains within the sidewalk by .04 cm and killing the ant that would've otherwise granted him a magical wish."

Additionally, "iterate" can be used for the more basic concept of simple repetition in the name of progress. "Listen, you degenerate, we will iterate this boilerplate until you capitulate and become literate."


REiterate, on the other hand, is simple repetition until one wishes to tear out one's hair or the hair of others. It's also useful as a condescending rhetorical device, best employed when rubbing the nose of one's opponent in some glaring fallacy. "In case you've forgotten, Mr. Witherspoon, let me reiterate: hamsters are not venomous creatures."

The purpose of the "re," to my thinking, is to stress that the repetition is there to reinforce the information or outcome - in contradistinction to "iterate," wherein the repetition is part of the process of obtaining the information one will later wish to reinforce.

So, I think this is a case of "Waiting for Webster," in that our usage of the two terms varies widely in execution, despite an apparent near-synonymic set of definitions, and the lexicographers need to play catch-up.

Please excuse my logorrhea...I consumed a cornucopia of lexicographic goodness during my most recent exegesis, and forgot to take my Immodium-SW (for Samuel Webster, of course).

Claire said...

Ah, crap. Samuel Johnson, of course, not Samuel Webster. But then you knew that.

I'll get it right in the next iteration. Can someone hit that "reset" button for me, please?

Sra said...

Claire, I think I'm in love with you.

Claire said...

Oh, sure, all the girls say that, until they remember they don't have "the gay."

This does give me hope, however, that my married crush will somehow be overcome by my linguistic allure and forget about her, you know, husband. And, again, the not-being-gay thing.

Meh. At least I'm scoring high in the enviable "Utah-based, under-35, future legal eagle" demographic!

Pastor Jason Semans said...

Well defined and well stated Claire. I agree with the exceptional differentiation you have presented between iterate and reiterate. I disagree that one needs to be tossed in lieu of another simply because of the difficulty in discerning the intrinsic diversity of their nuanced meanings. I believe that the importance of the two words lies in the similarity of their meanings but difference in usage. The use of iterate by the 'scientific' sect (they get all the best words like duodem, disengenuious, and formication [spelled correctly]) is to more clearly delineate between events leading to a whole spectrum of potential usage to color the more pedantic (dare I say pedestrian) vocabularies in use by the general populace. To knock around using iterate instead of more common over-used words shows a wildly exciting imagination and 'devil-may-care' linquistic savoir-faire.
Stepping beyond the normal 'eh' in this way may even start a revolution! Imagine a world where people spell out what they are texting, or just spell correctly! My goodness the euphoria is overwhelming.

As far as synonyms for exegesis, I know of none. However, if mispronounced can sound like 'ex-eh-jesus' and sends many a biblical scholar's hairs to standing on end. There is also isegesis which means to bring meaning to a text. The former means to pull meaning from the text.

So to you well written and read scibes of years ago, thank you for the invigorating reading and provoking thoughts on two words that my son and I were discussing because of his latin class. Incidentally, the re in latin is important to the words meaning and is something to look up at your leisure.

Pastor Paradox

Shayon Pal said...

 Frankly, there can't be a re-iterate, if there is no iterate!!

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