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The context: a warning to a user of a website that tells the user that patterns in an image should be avoided.

One of the key characteristics of a pattern is that it is repetitive. There is no such thing as a “non-repetitive pattern”. This makes it a pleonasm. Am I right about this?

At the same time, I feel “repetitive pattern” sends a clearer message to the user than just “pattern”, because it is a pleonasm. I was taught that I should avoid pleonasms. Is this a justified case to use a pleonasm?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It's a pleonasm, but pleonasms aren't all bad. They range from the irritatingly redundant (though different people will disagree on what is and isn't irritating) through to some that are useful in giving information to some readers/listeners who don't understand the precise meaning of the noun, and there is much room in between.

While all patterns are repetitive, some are more gratingly repetitive than others, so it may be worth using the redundant adjective.

If you do find it reads badly to you, you could also use it in a form like "Avoid patterns, because repetition of elements can...".

Here you avoid the pleonasm and the possibility that some readers may dislike the redundancy, while still underscoring what you mean by pattern.

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A pattern is not necessarily repetitive, even though it may be repeated. A pattern, don't forget, is also a model for others to follow, and in other cases simply an arrangement of things. Each fingerprint is a pattern of lines and whorls, for example, yet each of those patterns is purported to be unique.

If I make a pattern for others to follow, such as a design pattern in a computer language, it is not really repetitive in and of itself. The act of repeating the pattern causes it to be repetitive, so the term "repetitive pattern" only applies in the act of repetition, not creation.

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...although even a non-repeating pattern may still be repetitive [internally], say a "Loop unroll by Copy-Paste" "design pattern". –  SF. Jan 17 '13 at 13:10
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