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, thus in effect repeating one or more words.
Two common examples are "PIN or 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 by New Scientist.
A person is 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[which?] 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:
- LCD display (liquid crystal display display)
- UPC code (universal product code code)
- HIV virus (human immunodeficiency virus virus)
- DC Comics (Detective Comics Comics)
Reasons for use
Although there are many instances in editing where removal of redundancy improves clarity, the pure-logic ideal of zero redundancy is seldom maintained in human languages. Bill Bryson says, "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."
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).
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- Detective Comics Comics
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