In other words, what's the word for not wanting to repeat a word? I find attempts to avoid repeating a word are generally ham-fisted and unnatural. I know there is a word for the act of not repeating a word, but I can't remember what it is.

  • Could you give us a sentence as an exemplar (especially the "ham-fisted and unnatural" type)? – rhetorician Dec 13 '16 at 13:53
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    @rhetorician I thought I had in the title of the question. Here's another: "He liked a drink, but that night had had one beverage too many." I'd have written: "He liked a drink, but that night had had one drink too many." But some people think it's somehow bad style to repeat a word and try to find a synonym instead. My kids sometimes ask me, "Dad, what's another word for such and such?" I ask why and get told, I've already written "such-and-such" in the previous sentence. I need another word to avoid repeating it. To which I reply, "no, you don't." – Matthew Taylor Dec 13 '16 at 14:01
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    Well, in your precise example I would probably have written "He liked a drink, but that night had had one too many." since it's obvious what is meant even if one dispenses entirely with the noun in the secondary clause. Given that Just A Minute (the radio comedy quiz) sets so many standards, I'd say the term 'avoidance of repetition' suits your purpose despite being three words and not one. – Charl E Dec 13 '16 at 14:07
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    You say, "Ungulates from eastern New York which are bullied by large cows from Erie County, in turn pester bison from the Niagara Region." I say, "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo." Same thing. – cobaltduck Dec 13 '16 at 14:21
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    Yeah, I got that. As I said in my last comment, I was ignorant as to what a "semantic atom" was and is. Thought: Would a sentence qualify as a semantic molecule? Don – rhetorician Dec 13 '16 at 18:31

Elegant Variation

Defined by Oxford Dictionaries Online as "The stylistic fault of studiedly finding different ways to denote the same thing in a piece of writing, merely to avoid repetition."

  • That's the one I was trying to remember. Thank you. – Matthew Taylor Dec 14 '16 at 19:10

The word you may be looking for is Conduplicatio


noun, Latin

  1. A rhetorical term for the repetition of one or more words in successive clauses.

  2. The repetition of a word in various places throughout a paragraph.

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

"And the world said, 'Disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences'—and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world." - George W. Bush


Or, thinking of the inverse of Conduplicatio, Dissimilation may be usable.



  1. The act of making or becoming unlike.


While Dissimilation is usually used in phonetics, not grammar, it may be adaptable to function for this purpose.

  • Thank you. But that is the opposite of the word I was trying to remember. I'm trying to remember the word for 'avoiding repetition'. – Matthew Taylor Dec 13 '16 at 17:26
  • Updated my answer. – Hank Dec 13 '16 at 19:51

According to grammar.about.com (for whatever that's worth), the term "monologophobia" was coined by New York Times editor Theodore M. Bernstein in 1965. That page defines the word as

A fear of using a word more than once in a single sentence or paragraph.

  • Sounds more like it means a fear of monologues. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 14 '16 at 0:10

The Horror aequi principle is one term used in linguistics:

the horror aequi principle ... involves the widespread (and presumably universal) tendency to avoid the use of formally (near-)identical and (near-)adjacent grammatical elements or structures

Determinants of grammatical variation in English and the formation / confirmation of linguistic hypotheses by means of internet data

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