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This is really a two part question. How do you find a word that you forget, but you remember its definition? I have this problem routinely. I usually try googling "word that means fill-in-words-from-the-definition-here. But that doesn't always work.

For example, there is a word which means circular reasoning. What is it? I tried googling (that is, searching) word meaning circular reasoning, with no luck (on the first page of results). Same results at Bing. I also looked up "circular reasoning" on dictionary.com. That site had a definition, but no synonyms.

I know for a fact the word I'm looking for exists (I've seen it). You'd think Google could find it. I thought the word was tautology, but that seems to have a slightly different definition.

P.S. Example: So-and-so, on Fox News is a right-wing partisan (am I displaying my bias here?).

How do you know?

Because they're on Fox News.

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See discussion on a related question: [english.stackexchange.com/questions/61795/… –  JLG Mar 21 '12 at 18:24
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6 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As to the first part of your question about finding a word you've forgotten, you could try a reverse dictionary.

I also love, love, love my dog-eared copy of Roget's Thesaurus. (I should probably have looked up some synonyms for "love.") There is something to be said for thumbing through it and finding a category of words to ponder. Serendipity at its best, I tell you. There's an online version of Roget's too, but it's just not the same.

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Circular argument and petitio principii are other terms I've seen for this. Wikipedia says it's also called begging the question:

Begging the question (Latin petitio principii, "assuming the initial point") is a type of logical fallacy in which a proposition is made that that uses its own premise as proof of the proposition. In other words, it is a statement that refers to its own assertion to prove the assertion.

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What about tautological ?

This may convey what you require.

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A fallacy is incorrect reasoning, of which circular logic is one kind. Wikipedia also has a List of Fallacies which may help you.

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I believe the term you are looking for is petitio principii

Petitio Principii: (circular reasoning, circular argument, begging the question) in general, the fallacy of assuming as a premiss a statement which has the same meaning as the conclusion.

As you can see, this is also sometimes called "question-begging" or "begging the question."

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@cornbread: I rolled back your edit (premiss => premise) for two reasons: 1) premiss is an alternate spelling of premise, and 2) the definition given is an excerpt from the link provided. –  Robusto Mar 21 '12 at 18:32
    
Thank you for the learning opportunity. I did a search first, but as I've stated elsewhere in comment, I ought to use different dictionaries once in a while. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Mar 21 '12 at 20:46
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  1. Tautology (a statement that is necessarily true) — "the phrase 'a beginner who has just started' is tautological". This is the solution to half the question. One word for a 'circular argument/reasoning/logic'.
  2. How to look up Google? Browse your definition to narrow down the field of options and then use 'define' after any words in your shortlist to check their definition for best match with your original definition.

Note: tautology is a tricky one to find. No doubt there are others. Patience and persistence are called for. Also, when you stop thinking, having exhausted your ideas list, a form of higher order 'muscle memory' usually kicks in and supplies the 'intuitive' solution to your lost item. Now, what's the precise word for that?

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protected by RegDwigнt Aug 22 '13 at 9:29

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