RAS syndrome (short for "redundant acronym syndrome syndrome") refers to the use of one or more of the words that make up an acronym or initialism in conjunction with the abbreviated form, thus in effect repeating one or more words. Two common examples are "PIN number" (the "N" in PIN stands for "number") and "ATM machine" (the "M" in ATM stands for "machine"). Other names for the phenomenon include PNS syndrome ("PIN number syndrome syndrome", which expands to "personal identification number number syndrome syndrome") or RAP phrases ("redundant acronym phrase phrases").
A person is humorously said to suffer from RAS syndrome when they redundantly use one or more of the words that make up an acronym or initialism with the abbreviation itself. Usage commentators consider such redundant acronyms poor style that is best avoided in writing, though they are common in speech. The degree to which there is a need to avoid pleonasms such as redundant acronyms depends on one's balance point of prescriptivism (ideas about how language should be used) versus descriptivism (the realities of how natural language is used). For writing intended to persuade, impress, or avoid criticism, usage guides advise writers to avoid pleonasm as much as possible, not because such usage is always "wrong", but rather because most of one's audience may believe that it is always wrong.
Other nonce coinages continue to arise. Select examples of RAS phrases include:
- ATM machine (automated/automatic teller machine machine)
- LCD display (liquid crystal display display)
- PIN number (personal identification number number)
- PDF format (portable document format format)
- DC Comics (Detective Comics Comics)
Reasons for use
Although there are many instances in editing in which removal of redundancy improves clarity, the pure-logic ideal of zero redundancy is seldom maintained in human languages. As Bill Bryson says, "Not all repetition is bad. It can be used for effect [...], or for clarity, or in deference to idiom. [...] 'SALT talks' and 'HIV virus' are [...] 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."
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. 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).
Sometimes the presence of repeated words does not create a redundant phrase. For example, a "redundant RAID (redundant array of inexpensive/independent disks)" may in fact be a nested backup RAID (e.g., RAID 5+1) in the system being described; "laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) light" is light produced by a light amplification process. While LCD display is redundant, LED display is not (light emitting diode).
- "Redundant Acronym Phrases".
- Garner, Bryan A. (2000) The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
- Milroy, James; Milroy, Lesley (1999). Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-17412-1.
- Clothier, Gary (8 November 2006). "Ask Mr. Know-It-All". The York Dispatch.
- Newman, Stanley (December 20, 2008). "Sushi by any other name". Windsor Star. p. G4.
- "Feedback" (fee required). New Scientist (2285). 2001-04-07. p. 108. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
- RAS syndrome newsgroup on Usenet (alternative free web access using Google Groups)
- Singh, S.K. Bank Regulations. Delhi: Discovery Publishing House. ISBN 81-8356-447-X.
- Brians, Paul. "LCD display". Common Errors in English Usage. Retrieved 05-01-2012. Check date values in:
- "Sick of acronyms?". Electronics Weekly. 25 April 2001.
- census.gov. "Portable Document Format (PDF)]]".
- Bryson, Bill (2002), Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, ISBN 0-7679-1043-5.
- "LINGUIST List 4.532: Last Posting: Acronyms". Linguistlist.org. Retrieved 2009-05-22.