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For example, answering the question "what is this?" with an overly literal response.The word I am trying to remember would be used in the phrase "Not to be XXX but unexpected events are unexpected. That's why we didn't expect it." (The word isn't 'tautological' or 'redundant')

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Vacuous: "having or showing a lack of thought or intelligence; mindless."

Your statement, "unexpected events are unexpected" might be called vacuously true if in a mathematics context.

  • It also has the sense of completely devoid of content, which I think is what is being asked for. – Al Maki Jan 28 '16 at 21:44
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I might go with trivial, which means "simple, transparent, or immediately evident" (sense 4b, here).

  • "Not to be trivial, but unexpected events, are, well, unexpected."

But I don't think this captures your case of answering "What is this?" with an overly literal response.

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An overly literal response would be 'pedantic'.

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I would suggest axiomatic:

self-evident; obvious

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