During a chat with David and Diane recently, we burst out laughing at an email we probably shouldn’t have laughed at.

The reason?

RAS syndrome

Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome, as it’s known with tongue firmly in cheek, is essentially a Redundant Acronym Phrase, that is, “a phrase containing an acronym plus a word or phrase such that, when the acronym is expanded, the phrase would contain a redundancy”.

For example: ATM machine.

ATM is the acronym for ‘automated teller machine’.

Therefore, ATM machine really means ‘automated teller machine machine’.

Because we had nothing better to do, we researched a whole bunch of them, and here they all are:

Numbers

  • IBAN Number – International Bank Account Number Number
  • ISBN Number – International Standard Book Number Number
  • PIN Number – Personal Identification Number Number
  • VIN Number – Vehicle Identification Number Number

Sports

  • NFL Football – National Football League Football
  • NHL Hockey – National Hockey League Hockey
  • MLB Baseball – Major League Baseball Baseball
  • MLS Soccer – Major League Soccer Soccer
  • MLL Lacrosse – Major League Lacrosse Lacrosse.
  • EPL League – English Premier League League

Technology

  • LCD Display – Liquid Crystal Display Display
  • UPC Code – Universal Product Code Code
  • PDF Format – Portable Document Format Format
  • TCP/IP protocol – Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol Protocol
  • HTML – Hypertext Markup Language Language

Miscellaneous

  • VIP Person – Very Important Person Person
  • HIV virus – Human Immunodeficiency Virus Virus
  • OPEC Countries – Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Countries
  • DC Comics – Detective Comics Comics

A Special Mention

  • Please RSVP – Please Répondez s’il vous plaît

So who first wasted their time researching RAS syndrome?

The term RAS syndrome first appeared in the magazine New Scientist of May 26, 2001.

Such redundancies, says Bryan Garner in his Modern American Usage of 2009, “may be passable in speech—especially with unfamiliar acronyms—[but] they should be avoided in formal writing”.

Seriously though, why bother?

Redundant acronym syndrome isn’t the planet’s most serious problem, not by a country mile.

In fact, there is even a case to be made that saying something like “PIN number” instead of just “PIN” may be a helpful error in that adding the word “number” helped the listener or reader understand exactly what you were talking about.

But, people do notice when we insert redundant words, and for these people, redundancies are faults in otherwise faultless texts.

Oxford Dictionaries noted in its guidance on avoiding redundant expressions that repetition can “give the impression that you don’t really understand the meaning of the words you’re using.”

Prevent Redundant Acronyms From Making You Look Stupid

Thankfully, this part is quite easy.

Always know what an acronym stands for before using it.

Acronyms are common, so they are easy to use without knowing their meaning.

To combat that, only ever use an acronym if you understand what words it represents and can therefore avoid the pitfalls of its misuse.

When writing an acronym, think of the unabbreviated words within, and if the sentence makes sense with the unabbreviated words, as well as the acronym, it is RAS-free. If the sentence has a redundancy, it’s suffering from RAS Syndrome and needs rewriting.

Lastly, as writers, we believe that we, and the text, benefits if we eliminate unnecessary words. Doing that makes room for other information and when you’re squeezing all you can into a tight space, every single word counts.

Writing with precision is an important tool in our arsenal, and redundancies like redundant acronyms show a sloppy effort by the writer.

Author Mark Debono

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