RAS syndrome

"ATM machine" is a common example of RAS syndrome

RAS syndrome (where "RAS" stands for "redundant acronym syndrome", making the phrase "RAS syndrome" self-referential) is the use of one or more of the words that make up an acronym (or other initialism) in conjunction with the abbreviated form. This means, in effect, repeating one or more words from the acronym. Two common examples are "PIN number" / "VIN number" (the "N" in PIN and VIN stands for "number") and "ATM machine" (the "M" in ATM stands for "machine"). The term RAS syndrome was coined in 2001 in a light-hearted column in New Scientist.[1][2][3]

Many style guides advise against usage of these redundant acronyms[4], but they continue to have widespread usage in colloquial speech.


Other nonce coinages continue to arise. Select examples of RAS phrases include:

  • HIV virus (human immunodeficiency virus virus)[5]
  • LCD display (liquid crystal display display)[6][7]
  • PDF format (portable document format format)
  • UPC code (universal product code code)[8]

Reasons for use

Although there are many instances in editing where removal of redundancy improves clarity,[9] the pure-logic ideal of zero redundancy is seldom maintained in human languages. Bill Bryson says,[9] "Not all repetition is bad. It can be used for effect ..., or for clarity, or in deference to idiom. 'OPEC countries', 'SALT talks' and 'HIV virus' are all technically redundant because the second word is already contained in the preceding abbreviation, but only the ultra-finicky would deplore them. Similarly, in 'Wipe that smile off your face' the last two words are tautological—there is no other place a smile could be—but the sentence would not stand without them."[9]

A limited amount of redundancy can improve the effectiveness of communication, either for the whole readership or at least to offer help to those readers who need it. A phonetic example of that principle is the need for spelling alphabets in radiotelephony. Some instances of RAS syndrome can be viewed as syntactic examples of the principle. The redundancy may help the listener by providing context and decreasing the "alphabet soup quotient" (the cryptic overabundance of abbreviations and acronyms) of the communication.

Acronyms and initialisms from foreign languages are often treated as unanalyzed morphemes when they are not translated. For example, in French, "le protocole IP" (the Internet protocol protocol) is often used, and in English "please RSVP" (roughly "please respond please") is very common.[4][10] This occurs for the same linguistic reasons that cause many toponyms to be tautological. The tautology is not parsed by the mind in most instances of real-world use (in many cases because the foreign word's meaning is not known anyway; in others simply because the usage is idiomatic).

See also


  1. ^ Clothier, Gary (8 November 2006). "Ask Mr. Know-It-All". The York Dispatch.
  2. ^ Newman, Stanley (December 20, 2008). "Sushi by any other name". Windsor Star. p. G4. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012.
  3. ^ "Feedback" (fee required). New Scientist (2285). 2001-04-07. p. 108. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
  4. ^ a b Garner, Bryan A. (2000) The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ https://www.thoughtco.com/ras-syndrome-words-1691894
  6. ^ Brians, Paul. "LCD display". Common Errors in English Usage. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  7. ^ https://www.npr.org/sections/memmos/2015/01/06/605393666/do-you-suffer-from-ras-syndrome
  8. ^ https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/ras-syndrome/
  9. ^ a b c Bryson, Bill (2002), Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, ISBN 0-7679-1043-5.
  10. ^ "LINGUIST List 4.532: Last Posting: Acronyms". Linguistlist.org. Retrieved 2009-05-22.

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