Some acronyms are so familiar that we can forget what they stand for. That can be a problem, if you dislike redundancy in communication. Consider two recent news items, each involving hard-to-get cash.

One described a California man who received a stimulus payment on an old debit card. He hadn’t used the card in awhile, and couldn’t recall his four-digit PIN. When he called his bank, they told him he could only re-set his PIN by entering his PIN.

You see the problem? The discussions went round and round, until a consumer affairs reporter at a TV station got involved and helped to resolve the matter. On air, the reporter said “You need a PIN number and you better not forget it.”

The other story was about an ATM stolen in B.C. Police released security footage of the getaway van. Later that same day, the abandoned van and ATM were found on a roadside. The headline of one article said “Stolen ATM machine found in backcountry”.

Okay, these aren’t high crimes, but in both cases the word following the acronym is unnecessary. The “N” in PIN stands number, so PIN number comes across as personal identification number number.

And the “M” in ATM stands for machine. So: automated teller machine machine.

There’s actually a term for this language faux pas. Even has a Wikipedia page. It’s called RAS – redundant acronym syndrome. Or, as some say to make the point, RAS syndrome.

Some examples (with the acronym spelled out):

  • LCD display (liquid crystal display)
  • UPC code (universal product code)
  • HIV virus (human immunodeficiency virus)
  • VIN number (vehicle identification number)
  • PDF format (portable document format)
  • ICU unit (intensive care unit)
  • CPI index (consumer price index)
  • HTML language (hyper text markup language)
  • BFFs forever (best friends forever)

No need to tack on the word after the acronym. It’s already included.

Please RSVP is another multilingual offender, as the acronym stands for the French phrase “Repondez, s’il vous plait”, which already incorporates “please”.

Then there’s a category of common redundant expressions. Hundreds of them, like:

  • drop down
  • lift up
  • advance planning
  • join together
  • added bonus
  • first of all
  • bald headed
  • past experience
  • circle around
  • repeat again
  • cease and desist
  • never before
  • final outcome
  • unexpected surprise
  • close proximity
  • lag behind
  • might possibly
  • final conclusion
  • free gift
  • sum total
  • new innovation
  • personal friend
  • current trend
  • tuna fish

Why do these bug me? Redundancies complicate writing, and make your messages needlessly longer.

I love this quote from The Elements of Style, about how “vigorous writing is concise”:

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

Don’t jam the machine with superfluous words. So let’s join together to cease and desist redundancy.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

May 19, 2021

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