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Merriam-Webster defines stark as "sharply delineated."

The same dictionary defines a contrast as a "juxtaposition of dissimilar elements."

Doesn't it follow then that "a stark contrast" essentially means "a juxtaposition of very different different elements?"

If so, would "a great contrast" make an acceptable substitute?

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Stark contrast is a very common "set term", with 840,000 instances in Google Books. There's nothing logically or grammatically odd about a juxtaposition involving dissimilar elements. In fact, juxtapositions usually do - if they didn't we wouldn't bother calling attention to them with such a long word. I would advise OP to stick with this as a standard expression - it's several times more common than, for example, great contrast. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 '12 at 3:25
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Different things may only be slightly different from one another. You may make a contrast of them, but it would likely not be a stark contrast. –  Phoenix Feb 16 '12 at 3:36
    
@FumbleFingers I think the term is 'set phrase'. 'Set term' might introduce a redundancy where 'set phrase' for a term could do. [Stark contrast is a very common "set term"] –  Kris Feb 16 '12 at 4:58
    
@Kris: I have no special knowledge of any generally-recognised distinction, if indeed there is one. I note that googling "set term" linguistics gets twice as many hits as "set phrase" linguistics, but I couldn't see anything obviously differentiating them. To be honest, I just tend to use "set term" for simple two-word adjective+noun and adverb+verb pairings, and "set phrase" for any longer expressions. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 '12 at 14:25
    
@FumbleFingers 'term' is typically used to refer to a word with recognized/ specialized meaning, a set phrase, pre-defined expression, etc. in a given domain. –  Kris Feb 16 '12 at 14:48
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3 Answers

There is no redundancy in 'stark contrast' as in typical cases of redundancy.

Contrast is an attribute with degrees of variation: none to total.

stark in stark contrast merely qualifies the attribute to the level of extreme perceptibility.

Two things may be different to some extent. The difference is not perceptible so long as the contrast is below a certain threshold. Beyond that, and then a little further, the difference becomes so "glaring" that it comes out prominently: 'stark contrast'.

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You could argue that stark contrast is redundant. However, it is perfectly acceptable to use redundancy or repetition for emphasis. This is exactly what is being done in this somewhat ideomatic expression. If stark contrast is leaning too far towards cliché for you then you could substitute another intensifier for stark, but then you lose the benefit of clarity that comes with a well established expression.

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Such idioms, set phrases and 'established expressions' are generally not without a good semantic basis. Among them, stark contrast is grammatical, is correctly understood sans hyperbole, as is also technically accurate. So, there is no redundancy as such. –  Kris Feb 16 '12 at 7:36
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I echo Kris' comment and add as a for-instance that for a long time TVs had contrast dials that were analogue. You could twiddle that knob all the way from no contrast (black screen) through to stark. Yes, my TV had a label with STARK written on it.

So no, it's not redundant.

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Actually it didn't have that label, but I thought it should. –  Ed Guiness Feb 16 '12 at 10:22
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