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. Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 16:08
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    Compare regularly irregular which is a standard medical term. Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 6:46

8 Answers 8


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
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 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
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 16:10
  • Yeah, It's kind of like putting off procrastination... Commented Jul 27, 2012 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.


"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.


"Consistently inconsistent" is a philosophical concept first put forth by Aristotle in his Poetics, one of the earliest works of aesthetic theory. It means that any story told must be true to its internal logic, and that characters in a story must also behave within the confines of the story's logic. Take Middle Earth as an example. The setting is a world equivalent to pre-Industrial Revolution Earth. If Gandalf had suddenly produced a supersonic jet for the Nine Companions to take to Mordor to destroy the Ring, it would have violated the internal logic of the world in which the story is set.


I suggest "consistently inconsistent" might accurately be used when evaluating the behavior or a particular person across a range of issues. For example, if an individual's words and deeds are routinely inconsistent, misaligned, and inaccurate in context of a range of policy issues such as immigration, national security, and international trade, human rights, the rule of law, etc., said individual might accurately be described as consistently inconsistent.

Consistency of word and alignment between words and deeds being so closely tied to credibility, one might also describe said individual as "incredible" -- literally the opposite of credible, and arguably therefore untrustworthy. (Though of course affective trust is often granted despite numerous indicators that cognitive trust should not be.)

[NOTE: In light of the high likelihood one might infer I was referencing a specific national leader in this example, please take my example at face value. I'm confident it will stand on its own merit; if it applies accurately to any given individual, that's not my fault.]


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


working on a criminal case i came across a pattern of what seemed "inconsistent" in different witness statements. When i broke the statements down it was clear that all the statements had at least 4/5 same entries inserted = consistent.

When we cross reference 6 different statements they were too consistent, meaning if these were genuine statement they would be more inconsistent that consistent.

We use the term inconsistent (reviewed as a whole)

It doesn't matter which way it is said but in our case we referred to these entries as inconsistently (as a whole) consistent (same paragraphs in each statement).

Each paragraph within the report was annotated with consistently inconsistent. The persons / authorities reviewing this report understood without the need for an explanation.

Therefore my point is if someone states consistently inconsistent what it means is i found something that matches or is the same but doesn't belong, or shouldn't be there.


I agree 100% I think it's fine used in a light humorous term to emphasize something.. for example the Wendy's near my house one time you may come in and it's Fantastic the next time you come in it sucks and it repeats itself. so therefore when I say well here's the thing about our Wendy's near my house they are consistently inconsistent basically meaning you never know what you're going to get to either going to be good or it's going to be bad.

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    Hi Kevin, welcome to EL&U. There are some problems with your answer: (1) I don't think it's appropriate to use our site to comment on a recognised food chain - the name of the store is irrelevant and should be deleted; (2) EL&U is a site for "serious English language enthusiasts" - so we really do expect correct good expression and standard punctuation; and (3) you haven't answered the question, you've merely given an example of how you have the same issue. You can edit your post to address these issues. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the Tour. :-) Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 23:12
  • @Chappo What's the reverse of spam? I think this it. Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 4:10

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