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I stumbled on this phrase today, but have seen it in news articles and blogs, as well. Here's an example from this site:

To put it mildly, the result of exercise was and remains consistently inconsistent.

I understand the sentiment being expressed, but is it any different than using just "inconsistent"? Similarly, is there a specific word that would describe this condition (e.g. repeated failings)?

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It seems to me that "consistently" is for emphasis. Just "inconsistent" means that there are different results present - "consistently inconsistent" seems to imply a different result each time. –  asymptotically Jul 27 '12 at 16:08
    
+1 for reasons of vanity :) –  coleopterist Jul 27 '12 at 16:10
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Compare regularly irregular which is a standard medical term. –  donothingsuccessfully Jul 28 '12 at 6:46

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It does smack of redundancy, especially in the context you provided, where the statement is further reinforced by the preceding 'was and remains'.

Logically anything that is inconsistent will be consistently so, since 'inconsistent' covers any behaviour apart from actual consistency. It's like saying that something is consistently chaotic. What is 'inconsistent' chaos? It gets pretty metaphysical pretty quickly.

For that reason, I'd say the best use for the phrase (and probably the reason why many articles use it), is to create humour.

On the other hand, it can also be used (and is likely the intended meaning in the example you cited) to mean that the results of the exercise fluctuate widely, but also in a predictable way. In which case I suppose the usage is valid, but still a little redundant. I'm not aware of a single term that could capture the sentiment, though.

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Thanks, I just had the same thought about the paradox of "constant change" etc. that this type of oxymoron produces. –  Zairja Jul 27 '12 at 16:05
    
Right. It's an odd issue because we can interpret what the differences between 'consistently inconsistent' and 'inconsistently inconsistent' might be, but do we really need those phrases at all? A set of results is either consistent, or it isn't. It works kind of like numbers; we have positive numbers and negative numbers. Technically you can have a positive negative number or a negative negative number, but the first is really just a negative number and the second is really just a positive one. –  Jesse M Jul 27 '12 at 16:10
    
Yeah, It's kind of like putting off procrastination... –  hydroparadise Jul 27 '12 at 20:30

The phrase "consistently inconsistent" is used for emphasis and a touch of humor, or at least more colorful language. It's not really redundant, as something could be "occasionally inconsistent".

In any case, there's nothing wrong with redundancy when it's used for emphasis or to add vibrancy to the language. Redundancy is just bad when it's pointless.

For example: "Joe arrived after the scheduled time and was late." Well duh, of course if he arrived after the scheduled time, he must have been late. That's a pointless redundancy. But, "Joe arrived after the scheduled time and delayed everything." That's not necessarily redundant. For example, others could have decided to go ahead without him when he was late. "Joe is always arriving late and missing appointments." Technically redundant, but it adds emphasis. Sometimes the difference between pointless redundancy and emphatic redundancy is highly subjective.

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"Consistently inconsistent" really is no different than "inconsistent," but the phrase carries either a humorous and/or a mocking or insulting tone to it.

I'd suggest that a single-word synonym might be maybe "erratic." The word "capricious" may also work sometimes, but is a bit more of a stretch as that usually refers to mood or feelings.

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"Unpredictable" may be a good fit, depending on context.

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