By Dr Oliver Tearle
The word ‘repeat’ is a handy one: almost too handy. And when needing to talk about repetition, you can find that you’re in danger of repeating yourself, or at least of repeating ‘repeat’. Some synonyms would be helpful. Below, we introduce some of the best alternative terms that mean repeat, or much the same thing.
Synonyms for the word ‘repeat’
Let’s start with one of the commonest contexts in which the word repeat is used: in speech and writing.
One of the simplest synonyms for ‘repeat’ is SAY AGAIN: to repeat something is to say it again, whether for rhetorical effect (as in Tony Blair’s listing of his party’s priorities as being ‘Education, education, education’), reinforcement, or clarification (‘I’ll repeat that in case you didn’t hear it the first time around’, etc.). Another way of saying this is to say that the person will RESTATE whatever it is they have said.
Sticking with speaking and writing, if you’d rather not talk of repeating a statement, question, or command, you can always use the word REITERATE. This is perhaps most commonly used about speech or writing (e.g., someone might say, ‘I cannot reiterate this point enough’), but it can also refer to actions.
But since reiterate is derived from the Latin iterum which means ‘again’, the word ITERATE itself means to repeat something. So to reiterate technically means ‘to say something again … again’. Some purists therefore prefer simply to use iterate, on the grounds that reiterate is needlessly tautological, but because of the re- prefix which suggests repetition, and the obscure etymology of iterate (which many people believe simply means ‘to state something’), I don’t think reiterate is going to fall out of use any time soon.
Another re- verb which can be used as a synonym for ‘repeat’ is RECAPITULATE, which initially meant to ‘summarise’ but now usually means to repeat something (e.g., a list) but often with some element of summarising present. So, for instance, someone delivering a speech may recapitulate the main points from their argument in their conclusion. Recapitulate is from the Latin for ‘chapter’ or ‘section’, and originally referred so such summaries when used of a religious text, specifically the Bible.
This word is often shortened to RECAP, perhaps because ‘recapitulate’ sounds like ‘giving in again’ (since if you capitulate to someone’s demands, you concede to them).
A common phrase meaning much the same thing is to GO OVER something: this is often used of actors going over their lines for a play, so is also a synonym for ‘rehearse’. However, it can also be used to man ‘restate’ or RETELL. Because it’s not obvious from the phrase that the action is being repeated, sometimes the longer phrase GO OVER AGAIN is used instead. Finally, you can describe such repetition as a REPRISE, or reprising the argument: this word should technically be rhymed with ‘cheese’ rather than ‘prize’, by the way, and is not to be confused with the word reprisal, denoting an act of retaliation.
All of the above synonymous words and phrases relate to somebody repeating or reiterating their own words or actions. But what about when we wish to describe somebody repeating someone else’s? There are quite a few handy words that can be used here, too.
ECHO is the name of a nymph in Greek mythology who fell in love with Narcissus, but because Narcissus loved only himself, her love for him was not reciprocated. Echo was an Oread or mountain nymph whom Zeus often visited for lustful reasons, shall we say. Hera, Zeus’ wife, was suspicious of her husband, and one day followed him to spy on him. Zeus ordered Echo to distract Hera by engaging her in conversation while Zeus escaped, and Echo did this, but when Hera found out that she was protecting Zeus, she punished Echo by robbing her of all speech of her own: from now on, all Echo could do was repeat the words of others, hence her name.
However, the word echo meaning a repeated sound – and, more widely, the repeating of what someone else has said, especially in approval – does not derive from this myth, and as the OED notes, the word was used before the earliest references to Echo the character. Still, the story neatly sums up the meaning of echo.
Words with a similar meaning include PARROT, which means to IMITATE what somebody else has said much as the bird does, and MIRROR and COPY, which can be used more broadly to refer to the imitating of other people’s actions.
There are also some more technical or scientific-sounding synonyms meaning to ‘repeat’: DUPLICATE and XEROX are two examples. The latter is from xerography (which literally means ‘dry-writing’), which gave rise to photocopying machines, known as Xeroxes. But in a jocular sense, to xerox can mean to repeat something: the late Christopher Hitchens, for instance, was fond of asking a barmaid or waiter to ‘xerox’ his drink, i.e., pour him another one or repeat his order.
Sticking with technology, and this time the realm of television and cinema, to REPLAY can also mean to repeat something: e.g., to replay something over and over in one’s mind.
Antonyms for the word ‘repeat’
There aren’t any direct antonyms for repeat, but phrases like SAY SOMETHING ONLY ONCE obviously convey the opposite meaning. And the antonym for a repeat action which is performed habitually might be OCCASIONAL or INTERMITTENT.