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RAS Syndrome
May 19, 2003 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Am I the only one who gets annoyed by RAS Syndrome? Apparently not. But why do even apparently intelligent people repeatedly refer to PIN Numbers (google 69,200), ATM Machines (google 68,500), RAM Memory (google 173,000), HIV Virus (google 104,000) or GUI Interfaces (google 93,900)? I wouldn't mind, but today even the BBC are getting in on the act. Oh, and incase you care, they are technically called Acronym-Assisted Pleonasms.

I'd ask you to list others you know of, but I know this will get out of hand very quickly... ;)
posted by twine42 (111 comments total)

 
Thanks for the interesting FPP post!
posted by alms at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2003


Thanks for that link to the BBC Corporation!
posted by RavinDave at 5:53 AM on May 19, 2003


It took me a minute to see what you were driving at: I immediately flashed on Dilbert's TLAs (Three-Letter Acronyms).

This sounds like one of modern life's more innocuous stupidities, worthy perhaps of a Seinfeld schtick but not much more. It's careless, sure, but not as bad as abusing apostrophes (its/it's).
posted by alumshubby at 5:54 AM on May 19, 2003


yet another GAP Post.
posted by quonsar at 5:54 AM on May 19, 2003


Technically it is incorrect, but people get used to saying one thing and as soon as something slips into popular usage, it gains a certain amount of validity. I think you'll find you are fighting a losing battle.
Interestingly, the Times style guide lists PIN as the usage but the Guardian advises Pin Number.
posted by mopoke at 5:57 AM on May 19, 2003


Note, however, that "PCV Valve" is corrrect.

The one that irritates me most is "PIN Number."
posted by yesster at 5:59 AM on May 19, 2003


Someone once castigated me for saying 'DC Comics', pointing out that DC stood for 'Detective Comics'. People who do this deserve a punch is the face.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:00 AM on May 19, 2003


One of my favorites, from my college days, was the "Tufts TAB Building". (The 'A' is for 'Administration'. Work the rest out yourself :) )
posted by jozxyqk at 6:01 AM on May 19, 2003


If you're geeky enough you purposely try to name software packages you write such that they're recursive acronyms. Such as GNU: GNU's Not Unix.
posted by substrate at 6:06 AM on May 19, 2003


This is something that used to irritate me a great deal but I've grown used to it now.
posted by Nick Jordan at 6:14 AM on May 19, 2003


Ah, now recursives are a different matter. Maybe they piss others off, but to me they just shout GEEK rather than marketting... ;)
posted by twine42 at 6:20 AM on May 19, 2003


"Pin number" irritates me greatly. The fact that it irritates me greatly irritates me greatly. One of the worst offenders i've run into are the Debit-pay gas pump interfaces...they're not even consistent! For instance, there are three Mobil stations near where I work, one has it correct ("Enter your PIN..."), one has it classically wrong ("Enter you PIN Number...") and one seems to try to get it right, but just gets it stupid ("Enter your PIN Code...").
posted by tpl1212 at 6:22 AM on May 19, 2003


fave recursive, pine : pine is not elm. what irritates me the most is CD-record in swedish. (Compact disk-disk). pin-number is right up there.
posted by dabitch at 6:23 AM on May 19, 2003


RPG games.
i wanted these on billboards around some city to sell some short shorts. i figured they too were redundant.
posted by kid_twist at 6:23 AM on May 19, 2003


Technically, it's not an acronym unless it spells out something pronounceable as a word, otherwise it's just an abbreviation. Like the SARS Syndrome :-) is an acronym, as is the NASA Agency, alas ATM Mode is not.
posted by psmealey at 6:26 AM on May 19, 2003


not acronyms, but still: rate of speed, years of age. grrr.
posted by mookieproof at 6:30 AM on May 19, 2003


"NIC cards" used to bug me a lot, but then people just started calling them network plug thingies and everthing got better again.
posted by soplerfo at 6:30 AM on May 19, 2003


My favorite is when James Brown musically implores me to join the "JBE experience". JBE, of course, standing for James Brown Experience.
posted by dgaicun at 6:32 AM on May 19, 2003


In Canada we have SIN's -- Social Insurance Numbers. It used to drive me nuts when various agencies and sundry would ask for my SIN number. It seems that I've gotten over it, however.
posted by ashbury at 6:38 AM on May 19, 2003


someone has invented it before me, but i am very proud of:
TIARA Is A Recursive Acronym.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:43 AM on May 19, 2003


Newscientist, New Scientist vol 170 issue 2292 - 26 May 2001, page 112.

'WE HAVE been taken to task by several readers for calling RAS syndrome "redundant acronym syndrome", when in fact it should be "redundant abbreviation syndrome", since RAS is not an acronym unless you pronounce it as a word.

Whatever you call it, the phenomenon is much more widespread than we imagined, and our postbag has been bulging with examples. Some of the more common usages that readers have drawn our attention to include SAM missile (surface to air . . . ), AC current (alternating . . . ), DC Comics (detective . . . ), RISC computers (reduced instruction set . . . ) and, in Britain, the annual TUC congress (trades union . . . ).

Other readers have noticed examples of double RAS syndrome, such as Microsoft's NTFS file system, and one which many readers remember from the 1960s, Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of UDI ( . . . independence). Those same readers, incidentally, will also remember the eminent British politician of the time, Rab Butler (Richard Austen . . . ), who is our only human example of RAS syndrome.

Meanwhile, reader Debbie Rudder swears she heard someone say "personal PIN number" recently, while Rachel Padman says that in her laboratory people habitually refer to "liquid LPG gas" (the "P" stands for petroleum) and Anthony Massam heard an American TV commentator refer to the "British BBC corporation".

So far, the only example of triple RAS syndrome we have is a company called NZI Insurance New Zealand Ltd.

And that's not all. Reader Joe Oldak points out that RAS syndrome is so deeply rooted in us we have a tendency to see it even when it isn't there. In Britain, for example, we take our cars for their annual "MOT" rather than an "MOT test". We do this, he says, because we assume that the "T" in MOT stands for test, so "test" is redundant and needn't be said. But MOT actually stands for the (now defunct) Ministry of Transport.

Casting the net wider still, reader John Murray reminds us that an ultimate example of RAS syndrome occurs in Scott Adams's Dilbert strip, where Dilbert finds himself in charge of "the TTP project". The TTP here stands for "the TTP project", where the TTP in turn stands for . . . and so on to infinity.

Finally, some readers have pointed to a related syndrome involving whole words. It usually occurs where different languages meet, as in salsa sauce, Rio Grande River, River Avon and the Ecole School of Classical Ballet in Sydney. Trevor Magnusson has an especially fine example: he recalls that during the conflict in Bosnia, reporters commented on the destruction of Mostar's "old Stary Most bridge". Stary means "old" in the local language and most means "bridge".

Our thanks to all who have sent in these and many more examples of this odd phenomenon. We think, however, we will now leave it for a while.'
posted by asok at 6:52 AM on May 19, 2003


Wow - it had never occurred to me to be irritated by that before. But now it will really piss me off! Nice one - cheers!

On the recursive issue doesn't PHP stand for "PHP Hypertext Processor"?
posted by jontyjago at 7:02 AM on May 19, 2003


Jeb Bush?
posted by agregoli at 7:03 AM on May 19, 2003


You got a problem? Refer it to the DORD (Department of Redundancy Department).
posted by jamespake at 7:07 AM on May 19, 2003


Jonty: Yes.

Agregoli: I assume 'Jeb' is short for 'Jebediah', but I could be wrong.

And it's not recursive OR often misused, but one of my favorite 'confused' acronyms is SQL...some people pronounce it 'Sequel', but others insist you're supposed to say all the letters out.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:14 AM on May 19, 2003


In my occupational field, there is a thing called a Material Safety Data Sheet. . . .(information on a product's manufacture, physical properties, hazards, etc.)

This gets referred to as the 'MSDS Sheet'. . . .and yes it bugs me. . . .Maybe it's a Virgo thing (to be bugged, not to append the meaning of the last initial).
posted by Danf at 7:17 AM on May 19, 2003


asok's post reminded me of this one: "El Rey Theatre" referred to as "The El Rey" (The the king). ugh.
posted by whatnot at 7:18 AM on May 19, 2003


John Ellis Bush
posted by quonsar at 7:24 AM on May 19, 2003


When you pronounce an abbreviation by spelling out the letters one by one it's an initialism.

Look at the big brain on me!
posted by sexymofo at 7:25 AM on May 19, 2003


One of my little tasks is obtaining and maintaining what are variously called "taxpayer I.D. numbers" or "employer I.D. numbers" from the IRS. THey're like social security numbers ("SSN numbers"), except they're for businesses, not individuals, and are in xx-xxxxxxx form instead of xxx-xx-xxxx. Even the IRS routinely refers to them as TIN numbers or EIN numbers, but the businesses themselves have for years called them "04 numbers" because they've always started with "04-". Until last year, when the IRS started assigning different prefixes based on the location of the business.

The upshot is that now we've got a whole new layer of absurdity in which I tell people their "04 number" is "51-1234567".
posted by yhbc at 7:27 AM on May 19, 2003


Does your car have a VIN or a VIN number?
posted by Slothrup at 7:40 AM on May 19, 2003


I'm going to TCBY Yogurt.
posted by goethean at 7:44 AM on May 19, 2003


I've always been interested in the construction of acronyms - as a 12-year-old I drew up a huge alphabetical list of words commonly used in acronyms (this was long before such conveniences as the Acronym Server, of course) and posted it on my wall so that I could, at a glance, make any short common word into an acronym (yes, that's how I spent my time... explain a lot?). Consequently, I get exercised not so much about RAS as its inverse - when the first word of the acronym is the word that the acronym spells, like FARM - Farm Animal Reform Movement. Kind of like TIARA, only it's used in earnest, often in do-gooder organization names. Bugs the hell out of me - it's an indicator of lazy-ass acronym construction, or uh.... Lame-Ass Mnemonic Encryption.
posted by soyjoy at 7:47 AM on May 19, 2003


Not completely on-target, but I used to get a chuckle listening to the dispatchers on the police scanners call out for the "K9 dogs."

They got referred immediately to the DORD, I suppose.
posted by baltimore at 7:50 AM on May 19, 2003


Slothrup - Mine has a VIN on its VIN Plate.

jontyjago - Yep. Although I'd swear that it was originally Personal Homepage Preprocessor...
posted by twine42 at 8:01 AM on May 19, 2003


My scanner talks to my computer using a TWAIN driver(Technology Without An Interesting Name). Not recursive or RASsy, but I like it.
posted by luser at 8:15 AM on May 19, 2003


It's an annoyance for me, also. If I'm asked to another DTM meeting I'll blow a fuse.
posted by nthdegx at 8:17 AM on May 19, 2003


In a similar vein:

I'd like a Maki Roll. (maki means roll)

Or: I'd like some Chai Tea. (chai means tea)
posted by gramcracker at 8:21 AM on May 19, 2003


But, how is breaking and entering a pleonasm?
posted by nthdegx at 8:24 AM on May 19, 2003


I'd swear that it was originally Personal Homepage Preprocessor...

It was, at first; then "Professional Hypertext Preprocessor". I didn't know they'd changed it again.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:26 AM on May 19, 2003


From the same link - "A pleonasm consists of two concepts (usually two words) that are redundant".

They're not *both* redundant, surely. Sorry to go on...
posted by nthdegx at 8:27 AM on May 19, 2003


In my occupational field, there is a thing called a Material Safety Data Sheet. . . .(information on a product's manufacture, physical properties, hazards, etc.)


In my occupation, we just say MSD Sheet, which although correct, has half of it shortened and half of it not so much.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:28 AM on May 19, 2003


It always amazes me how easily irritated some people are by perfectly normal and unexceptionable phenomena. If "PIN number" irritates you that much, you must really blow your stack at slow traffic lights, and I hesitate to think what not finding your favorite brand in the supermarket would do to you.

One more time, people: language is not logic. It is not ruled by logic. It has nothing to do with logic. People speak in ways that make sense to them, that are useful in a given situation, that they are accustomed to. They don't stop and think "does this expression conform to the rules of logic?" -- and they shouldn't, because that would be a waste of their time (though not as much a waste as the effort that goes into other people's complaining about it).

The reason for the "redundancy" is very simple: acronyms are usually too short to be distinctive and often homophonous with other words. You say you don't like "PIN number"? So you'd prefer that people go around talking about "my pin" or "do you have a pin?" and other people saying "pin? huh?" and the first person saying "no, I mean that number, you know..." and eventually coming to a mutual understanding? Give me a break. People talk the way they do for their convenience, not for the satisfaction of your nitpicking tendencies.

If you are that concerned by redundancy, by the way, you'll want to avoid saying "the Alhambra" ("al-" means 'the') or "Paraguay River" (both para and guay mean 'river' -- so you'd best avoid mentioning it at all). In fact, you should give up on English and learn Lojban instead; natural languages are far too full of illogic and redundancy ever to satisfy you.
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on May 19, 2003


nic card
posted by crunchland at 8:39 AM on May 19, 2003


killjoy :)
posted by dgaicun at 8:41 AM on May 19, 2003


Some more recursive examples - EINE Is Not EMACS, ZWEI Was EINE Initially, Xinara is not a recursive acronym (it's a village on the island of Tinos).
posted by jamespake at 8:48 AM on May 19, 2003


OK, languagehat, since we've got you here: what on earth do you call that odd meta-synecdoche by way of which military sorts call their molded-Kevlar helmets "Kevlars" (or, delightfully: "Kev-a-lars") and moisture-resistant base layers "polypros"?
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:51 AM on May 19, 2003


My personal most-annoying in the category has to be from when I lived in St Louis, and United Missouri Bank changed their named to UMB Bank...yup, United Missouri Bank Bank. Sheesh.
posted by nomisxid at 9:08 AM on May 19, 2003


languagehat, if you're that irritated by our being irritated... ;) :P etc.
posted by nthdegx at 9:16 AM on May 19, 2003


UPC code.
posted by Foosnark at 9:23 AM on May 19, 2003


the city of traverse city
posted by quonsar at 9:28 AM on May 19, 2003


After decades, an instructor's reference to the SAT test is still in my head.

And speaking of logic, why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?
posted by LinusMines at 9:31 AM on May 19, 2003


< You got a problem? Refer it to the DORD

AKA the DORD Department.

And let us give pause to a _double_ redundancy: The La Brea Tar Pits. They always do it better in LA...
posted by tspae at 9:49 AM on May 19, 2003


One more time, people: language is not logic. It is not ruled by logic. It has nothing to do with logic. People speak in ways that make sense to them, that are useful in a given situation, that they are accustomed to.

Yes, of course - and that is why constructions like "PIN number" are annoying. If a computer programmed to pick two-word phrases at random spat out "pin number", there'd be no problem. It's just a pair of words. When spoken by a human being, however, "PIN number" shouts "I have no idea what the words I'm saying actually mean".

Language, wielded by the ignorant, is embarassing and painful. Have you ever read the introduction to David Foster Wallace's dictionary review? It hurts. I could barely stand to read it. Everyone uses language, but it does not follow that all users of language are equally fluent, or that all uses of language are equally clear, useful, or pleasant. I prefer to read and hear words composed with skill, just as I prefer to listen to music sung by someone who can carry a tune and view pictures taken by someone with an eye for form and lighting. Clumsy language is just as ugly as incompetent art.

They don't stop and think "does this expression conform to the rules of logic?" -- and they shouldn't, because that would be a waste of their time

Clear writing is no waste of time; muddy writing exhibits disrespect for the reader.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2003


The one I hear most often is "DNS server".
posted by Succa at 10:01 AM on May 19, 2003


I agree with languagehat. Frankly, I find all these acronyms ugly in the first place, and I suspect that's the reason people don't feel like using them. People aren't hardware, and a "pin number" is what that four-digit thing is called now, so get used to it. The acronym becomes a modifier of the last noun because we like to use nouns not abbreviations. Or something -- I'm still on my FCOCOTD (first cup of coffee of the day).

Now, there's one that truly rankles me, because it's a combination of snobbery and dumbness: Please R.S.V.P.. I mean, come on, you're already wasting three whole letters on the "please" in French. But I surely, that's a losing battle also, and "Please R.S.V.P." is now English for "Please Reply."
posted by muckster at 10:02 AM on May 19, 2003


I personally love AAP pleonasms.
posted by jacknose at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2003


I do this on purpose just to annoy all you people.

It's fun making grammarians squirm.
posted by shepd at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2003


HIV virus.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:08 AM on May 19, 2003


The use of "PIN number" has been known to leave me in fits of impotent but loquacious rage. I believe that this is because I feel like I've always known what PIN stood for - must have picked it up somewhere at an early stage. But, once I'm done ranting for the sake of ranting, I do concede that if you've never stopped to think about what the letters stand for then why the hell should you care?
posted by MUD at 10:24 AM on May 19, 2003


In a similar vein:

I'd like a Maki Roll. (maki means roll)

Or: I'd like some Chai Tea. (chai means tea)


Or Manos, the Hands of Fate.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:41 AM on May 19, 2003


The one and only one that pisses me off is when people Say "I have the ISBN number." Then I think, most people don't know what an ISBN is and then I curse the bookstore for selling the coffee that makes me so jittery at work.
posted by drezdn at 11:05 AM on May 19, 2003


The one I hear most often is "DNS server".

That one doesn't annoy me so much. If I'm running DNS (the Domain Name Service) on one server and not another, I'll refer to the DNS box as the "DNS[ervice] Server."
posted by eyeballkid at 11:11 AM on May 19, 2003


Here's a military one for you, from my days as a 68B Aircraft Powerplant Repairer. One of the major threats to turbine engines is FOD, or Foreign Object Damage. Basically little bits of whatever on the runway that get sucked up into the turbine can cause a tremendous amount of damage. Here's the insane-but-typical military part, though -- when someone refers to "FOD" they are invariably talking about small debris, but when they talk about the end result they always say "FOD damage".
posted by Lokheed at 11:11 AM on May 19, 2003


The one I hear most often is "DNS server".

You have a problem with people referring to a Domain Name System Server?

Hmmm.. How odd...
posted by dirt at 11:17 AM on May 19, 2003


jozxyqk -- Go Jumbos! i'm '96 and still live down the street...hey, it's cheep. LOL on the TAB, i used to work in there and it drove me insane...there was also "The Habayit House" for the Hillel house on Packard Ave, which is akin to saying The La House Casa...

in the real, non-Somerville world, i have to deal with "QDR Reports" (quarterly direct report), and people asking me to send them a "cc: copy" of a letter....grrrr!
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:45 AM on May 19, 2003


While RAS doesn't bother me, I certainly make note of it when I encounter it, because it is something of a flag. It can indicate any number of things about the speaker/writer.

I woulg guess that most RAS cases are the result of an improper intriduction to the abbreviation. If you don't know what a PIN is and the retard at the bank says "This is your PIN number", then all you know is that it's a PIN number.

RAS is partly the result of people that DO know being lazy and stupid when sharing information with people that do NOT know, and partly the result of intermediary media that don't what the hell they're talking about (news, marketting). The reason HIV Virus or SARS Syndrome gets into common usage is because some gumby from Time magazine goes to talk to a scientist about SARS, which the scientist probably uses correctly, and then when writing the article decides that SARS doesn't sound right in the middle of a sentence. So the reporter calls it SARS syndrome. Because people don't know any better, they read it, they see the usage, the follow the leader.

The thing bothers me most about it is this: while I understand that language is not necesarily a "logical and precise" tool, it is the best one we have. And when we are communicating with someone else, we owe it to ourselves and the other person to communicate as accurately as we are able. To do any less is a dis-service to ourselves and a waste of time for the person with whom we are communicating.

It is a dis-service to ourselves because by failing to communicate clearly, we risk being misunderstood and not having our needs/wants/whatever met. It is a waste of time for others in that if you're not going to bother saying what you mean - then there's really no point in taking up the persons' time.
posted by jaded at 11:45 AM on May 19, 2003


"PIN number" doesn't annoy me anymore because I have to use it at work as a video store clerk. The people at our store have to use a PIN in order to rent videos. When I ask for a PIN, I sometimes get blank stares or they pick up the pen on the counter and hand it to me. When I ask for a "PIN number" I get a much higher rate of success. I haven't tried spelling out PIN, but I imagine that would have lower efficiency than pronouncing it.

If you start trying to argue about "PIN number" with me at the counter while you have 7 people behind you, I'll most likely get very annoyed.
posted by ODiV at 11:47 AM on May 19, 2003


After decades, an instructor's reference to the SAT test is still in my head.

Yeah, and I've been hearing "LSAT test" a lot since I've been studying for it. I've also been hearing "LSAT exam" too, which is even worse, in my opinion.
posted by lnicole at 11:47 AM on May 19, 2003


On the topic of recursion, this is the GNU acronym I find most appaling:

'Hurd' stands for 'Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons'. And, then, 'Hird' stands for 'Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth'.

Not only is it ubernerdy, but niether Hird of Unix Replacing Daemons of Interfaces Representing Depth nor Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth of Unix Replacing Daemons really make all that much sense.
posted by betaray at 11:49 AM on May 19, 2003


jaded: as for clarity sometimes a little redundancy is much more efficient in getting across a message.
posted by ODiV at 11:49 AM on May 19, 2003


On the mixing languages front, "with au jus sauce" always gets me.

Also when people say "3 AM in the morning." And recently, even worse than "SARS syndrome" is "SARS disease."
posted by nickmark at 11:50 AM on May 19, 2003


72 comments and no one has used the HTML acronym tag!
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:58 AM on May 19, 2003


On a similar note, I once heard someone point out that it is easier to say "world wide web" than get your mouth around "w w w". I guess that's where acronym acrimony goes mad and meets up on the other side...
posted by Kiell at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2003


The one and only one that pisses me off is when people Say "I have the ISBN number."

I personally hate it when they call it an "is bin" number. I think it's one of those sequel/SQL things, though, where nobody seems to be sure which is correct.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2003


i think when used properly, redundancy can be hilarious, i reckon.

my boss at work recently put a big A4 sheet of paper up on the door in the lab, and i quote, capitalizations and all:

----
This Door is now
Only to be Used
for Emergency
Use only.
----
posted by nylon at 12:19 PM on May 19, 2003


And it's not recursive OR often misused, but one of my favorite 'confused' acronyms is SQL...some people pronounce it 'Sequel', but others insist you're supposed to say all the letters out.
posted by cyrusdogstar

This used to be a big iron/little iron culture thing. The people working with room filling machines said sequel, the self taught mini/micro guys called it S-Q-L. I never even heard "sequel" until my second year of university when it was taught by an old IBM guy, even though I'd been programming it for 10 yrs.

I admit PIN number drives me insane, mostly beause it reinforces the idea that a pi must be a number.
posted by Mitheral at 12:29 PM on May 19, 2003


nobody seems to be sure which is correct.

This causes the ugly head of prescriptivism v. descriptivism to be reared. Is it possible to prescribe a correct pronunciation for an acronym? When the acronymic is clearly modeled after an existing word, such as the PATRIOT Act, then I suppose one could make the case. But with SQL, which does not, who's to say? Pronouncing it Ess-Kyoo-Ell might be more proper, since the word "sequel" obviously has no bearing on a query syntax for databases, and since SQL only vaguely resembles the word "sequel." Typically, we pronounce as words acronyms that appear to be phonetically manageable words, like ARPA, ROM, GNU, TWAIN, etc., but do not pronounce those that are clearly unpronounceable, like FBI, PHP, and ATM. ISBN is clearly a stretch, like SQL, but the strain on phoneticism didn't stop Southwestern Bell from trying to get people to prounounce SWBYPS (Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages) as "Swa-bips," an ad campaign that was mercifully short-lived.

In other words, pronounce it however the hell you want. If it sticks, like the pronunciation of "short-lived" with a short "i", then it becomes the de facto standard. Otherwise, you're just the crank in the office who goes around correcting people who say "Line-Ux" with a disquisition on Finnish phonemes.
posted by vraxoin at 12:33 PM on May 19, 2003


I love coming to these well-crafted beauties...

Asok's almost-perfect choice of re-post made me piss myself laughing. Thanks Asok!

I think many of these verbal tics constitute patterns of intensifiers, and double confirmers, 'I so really mean this', in a kind of lingua franca for the modern american/english language ( those which most resemble sensible words, make sense only in that tongue, I think ), with it's hyper-evolving, Speed-driven intercontinental growth.

And that's redundant of me to say that....

AAh. But, still, it's what i keep coming here for.

(",)
posted by dash_slot- at 1:56 PM on May 19, 2003


nickmark: yours is the only post I like. In general, I stopped caring when people do this, because adding a little redundancy in communication does more good than harm. But "au jus" makes me want to shoot myself.

Oh, and I'll also forgive "3 AM in the morning" because the person who says it has obviously just come out of deep sleep.
posted by hammurderer at 2:33 PM on May 19, 2003


the strain on phoneticism didn't stop Southwestern Bell from trying to get people to prounounce SWBYPS (Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages) as "Swa-bips," an ad campaign that was mercifully short-lived.
Thankfully the Small Computer System Interface standards committee didn't get their way either.
posted by Mitheral at 3:10 PM on May 19, 2003


Mars Saxman, at least you share with languagehat a distaste for the writing of David Foster Wallace. (Scroll down to "David Foster Wallace Demolished")
posted by samuelad at 3:18 PM on May 19, 2003


adamgreenfield: I dunno; I guess "synecdoche" is as good as anything (for "kevlar," that is, which is parallel to the use of "iron" for a golf club -- I know naught about polypros).

nthdegx: I'm irritated because a) language is my joy and my business and I hate seeing misunderstandings about it gain currency, and b) it bothers me to see people feeling superior for no good reason. You (and the other anti-pin-number partisans) are irritated because your irritation allows you to feel superior for no good reason.

Mars: Oy gevalt with the David Foster Wallace. Go follow samuelad's link (thanks for the shout-out, samuelad; I'm afraid you've misread Mars, though -- he's attacking not DFW but the examples of "misuse" that open his essay) and read my attack on that smug, idiotic, undeservedly popular piece of nonsense. If you still want to worship it and him, so be it; I've done what I could. But you're quite wrong about:

When spoken by a human being, however, "PIN number" shouts "I have no idea what the words I'm saying actually mean".

What it actually "shouts" is "I use the words I know for things, and the word I know for this thing is 'PIN number.' " I personally say "PIN number"; you can accuse me of not knowing what the words I'm saying actually mean, but you will (once again) be wrong.

To all of you anti-pin-number zealots: go read ODiV's eloquent explanation of why your position makes no sense. Keep reading it until it penetrates your skulls and the light bulb goes off above your head. Or don't. Just as you like. This is Liberty Hall, you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard.
posted by languagehat at 3:29 PM on May 19, 2003


I did misread Mars. Or rather I failed to read Wallace's Harper's piece. Guess I FUBARed that one beyond repair, huh? (or is it recognition?) ;- P
posted by samuelad at 3:50 PM on May 19, 2003


Tomato Ketchup. Now that one really irks me.
posted by dazed_one at 3:54 PM on May 19, 2003


Thankfully the Small Computer System Interface standards committee didn't get their way either.

The difference here being that SCSI is kind of amusing in a childish way, while SWBYPS is just desperate and sad.
posted by vraxoin at 6:58 PM on May 19, 2003


You ... are irritated because your irritation allows you to feel superior for no good reason.

Hmmmmmm....
posted by soyjoy at 7:07 PM on May 19, 2003


BWG guy.
posted by bwg at 7:37 PM on May 19, 2003


I love saying wizzywig!!! Fun times! WYSIWYG
posted by bmxGirl at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2003


Cheap shot, soyjoy, but as inevitable here at MeFi as the vibrating overlords, so thanks for upholding the standards of the demesne. (And believe it or not, I don't feel superior. Just irritated.)

And I have discovered that I too love saying "wizzywig." Wizzywig! Thanks, bmxGirl.
posted by languagehat at 7:54 AM on May 20, 2003


Yeha, it was a cheap shot, but only because I didn't want to spend the time to type this out:

Your outrage about this seems, um, out-of-proportion to the offense here. None of us, I don't think, were trying to make some big sociolinguistic point, we (I actually didn't join in on RAS, strictly speaking, but was part of the assembled) were just throwing down fun examples of silly speech patterns that different people might find annoying to different degrees. My "hmmmm" was just a quick way of reminding you that you might be coming off as more arrogant and possessive about language criticism than (I would assume) you actually are.
posted by soyjoy at 9:13 AM on May 20, 2003


The SCSI people, when it became obvious people were going to pronounce the abbrevation, wanted us to pronounce it as SEXY instead. Good hacker taste won out.
posted by Mitheral at 9:14 AM on May 20, 2003


languagehat, I cited the Harper's article solely for its introduction, not as an appeal to its argument. I don't even remember which side of the debate Wallace ended up embracing or what his reasoning was.

What it actually "shouts" is "I use the words I know for things, and the word I know for this thing is 'PIN number.' " I personally say "PIN number"; you can accuse me of not knowing what the words I'm saying actually mean, but you will (once again) be wrong.

"PIN number" is wrong because "personal identification number number" is wrong. What distinguishes this piece of broken language from a misspelling, a substitution, or a misuse of grammar?

Incorrect use of language creates more work for your reader or listener. Your message will probably still get through - people are good at error correction - but the errors add up. Misspelled words are often easy to spot and correct, but sometimes you have to read a sentence over once or twice in order to compensate for broken grammar. Substituted words can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

You know the phrase is wrong, but use it anyway; this tells me that you believe your whim is more important than my time spent trying to understand you. This particular case is trivial, and if we weren't discussing it I wouldn't even care, but as a general rule it is simply rude.

To all of you anti-pin-number zealots: go read ODiV's eloquent explanation of why your position makes no sense.

"Secret code".
"Personal access code."
"Secret number."
"Personal ID number."
"Security code."
"Access code."

I can't remember the last time an ATM ("automatic ATM machine"?) or security system asked me for a PIN.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:40 AM on May 20, 2003


Java - Just Another Vague Acronym
posted by garyh at 9:46 AM on May 20, 2003


OK, I was wrong when I said we were all just havin' fun. Mars is actually upset about this. Carry on. I'm gonna slip out the back door.
posted by soyjoy at 10:14 AM on May 20, 2003


Oh dear, have I made my argument too forcefully? No, I'm not upset. I just have a strong opinion on this subject... though I'll admit that the aesthetic judgement comes first, and the rest is rationalization.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2003


Contra languagehat, I'd chime in that our linguistic hackles (gut sense that something is poor or awkward style) are as natural a part of language as anything else. If this thread demonstrates nothing else, it's that plenty of English speakers have (because of, not in violation of their nature as linguistic creatures) developed an aversion to these redundancies. I don't personally share it, but, since I feel the same way about umpteen usages that are equally defensible as organic and functional outgrowths of the Mother Tongue, I think it'd be hypocritical of me not to allow others their feeling that English is being violated.
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2003


outgrowths of the Mother Tongue

Wow, that sounds like one of those unpleasant conditions documented by gruesome photos in a medical journal. I hereby concede any charges that I myself am abusing her...
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:08 PM on May 20, 2003


You know the phrase is wrong, but use it anyway; this tells me that you believe your whim is more important than my time spent trying to understand you.

No, it means that the time of the thousand people to whom my sentence is now more understandable because I used "PIN number" is more important than the time of the one person to whom it became less understandable.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:24 PM on May 20, 2003


Oh, and on the original topic, SALT talks, START treaty.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2003


Zurishaddai: Sure, and I have my own hackles (I hate, hate, hate the use of "may have" for "might have," as in "If he'd gotten a quicker start, he may have caught the ball"). I have no problem with that, and I'd have no problem with this thread if it were simply a jovial collection of personal shibboleths. What I object to is the use of language as a tool to classify people into a hierarchy, with levels ranging from smart/knowledgeable down to irredeemably dumb/ignorant—with the usage mavens, needless to say, situating themselves at the top of the scale by the very fact of being able to point out the supposed misuse. Go read through this thread and check out the use of language like "brain," "stupidities," "ignorant," and "deserve a punch i[n] the face." This is not cheerful confession of personal foibles; this is rank elitism, and I dislike it a lot worse than I dislike "may have." Every one of these usage threads (and there have been a lot of them, though I don't feel like excavating them at the moment) quickly degenerates into "look how stupid these dimwits are." The locus classicus is the thread on how Bush is a moron because he says "new-cu-lar." Bush may be a moron, but his pronunciation has nothing to do with it; I have relatives who say "nucular" (and "liberry" and "athalete" and all the rest), and I resent anyone looking down their nose at them because they don't use Received Pronunciation. Here in America we don't have any fucking Academy or Oxbridge, and we're supposed to judge a person by their abilities and personal qualities, not by how they pronounce words or hold their fucking fork. So yeah, it pisses me off. And lest you think it's just a matter of attitude, remember what happened to people who used the original shibboleth the "wrong" way.

DevilsAdvocate: Well said!
posted by languagehat at 1:22 PM on May 20, 2003


In the same vein as SCSI and WYSIWYG I love how SDMI (the RIAA secure music format) is pronounced. Pitty it didn't last.
posted by ODiV at 2:27 PM on May 20, 2003


Just saying PIN number in my head makes me squirm, although I have almost managed to control myself from correcting people, including complete strangers, every time they say it.

yhbc, I feel your pain. Except that here it is ABN (Australian Business Number) number or ACN Australian Company Number) number.

Way back when I was much younger and milk used to come in glass bottles, I used to have a job delivering it after school. We had two types of milk - one with the cream sitting on top that had silver bottle caps and one (homogenized) that had the cream mixed in and had red bottle caps. At one stage the red caps were changed to blue for some reason, but they were still referred to as "red tops", which confused the hell out of anyone new to the job, until they invariably ended up using the term as well. Kind of like the way we butter a piece of bread using margarine, I guess. Creatures of habit we be.
posted by dg at 3:39 PM on May 20, 2003


I'd have no problem with... personal shibboleths. What I object to is the use of language as a tool to classify people into a hierarchy...

Reasonable enough, but while I have every confidence that you don't erupt in rage and derisive abuse when you encounter "may have," surely you think there is something better about your own avoidance of such vulgarity? (I do. I share your reaction to mangled moods & tenses—I think it's "If I would've seen it..." for "If I'd seen it..." that irks me the most.)

P.S. When I saw you using "shibboleth" in this context, at first I didn't like it—surely the shibboleth was the ultimate life-or-death "hierarchalization"! But on reflection, in the original instance, dialectical variation was used to identify the enemy with whose hostile status the linguistic difference was just accidentally coincident. But still, the whiff of mortal condemnation lingers about that word!
posted by Zurishaddai at 8:15 PM on May 20, 2003


P.P.S. Since this is a usage thread, I guess I should retract my unsanctioned variation on hierarchization... before someone does it for me.
posted by Zurishaddai at 8:20 PM on May 20, 2003


surely you think there is something better about your own avoidance of such vulgarity?

No, I honestly don't. Not trying to be all superior ("I'm above such petty being-above..."), it's just a side benefit of long and intense study of language from a scientific point of view (not that lingustics is any more a science than any other study of our irremediably unscientific species). I know, not just intellectually but in my bones, that language changes and that there's nothing better or worse about any of the stages in the process. One of my favorite examples of this is a Roman grammarian of a couple of millennia ago (alas, I've forgotten his name) who urged his students to use equus for 'horse' and not that horrid, vulgar term caballus used by those low-class types in the army camps. Now, his advice was clearly wasted, because the descendents of those kids went on to create the late forms of Latin we call the Romance languages, in which the words for 'horse' (cheval, caballo, etc.) are all descended from caballus. Furthermore, from this distance his concern seems silly: equus, caballus, who cares? But if we who care about usage had been around in those days (and speaking Latin), we'd have felt the same way; equus was right, dammit! We're human, we can't help but prefer what we know and are used to (or, alternatively, what's new and exciting, depending on our personality), and that's fine; I have no desire to be a Vulcan. But it still has nothing to do with reality; there's nothing better or worse about one word or construction. I have seen the "may have" construction grow to the point where it's now hard to find the "correct" one, even in print, which tells me that the next generation will find it completely normal and acceptable and find my preference for "might have" as quaint as the Victorian insistence on "agenda" as a plural (Maury, 1860: "...there still remain many agenda"). So I bear my pain with fortitude and the calm certainty that I'm simply being a stubborn old coot; I urge the same philosophy on you.
posted by languagehat at 9:04 AM on May 21, 2003


My personal favorite is "ASP pages," which I've caught myself using occasionally. I usually correct to "ASP templates" but that doesn't strike me as much better.
posted by bbrown at 11:41 AM on May 21, 2003


Tomato Ketchup. Now that one really irks me.

It shouldn't. Ketchup comes from the Malay kicap, meaning a soy-based sauce. British sailors carried it back home. The word still primarily referred to a vinegar and spice mixture up until the 20th century, when tomatos started to be used. Worcestershire sauce is probably ketchup of this kind. To avoid confusion, tomato ketchup is called tomato sauce over here in Malaysia.
posted by BinGregory at 12:39 AM on May 22, 2003


It shouldn't. Ketchup comes from the Malay kicap, meaning a soy-based sauce.

Someone always beats me to it.

So, who's going to get their heckles up about scuba gear?
posted by rory at 4:02 AM on May 22, 2003


heckles hackles
posted by rory at 6:06 AM on May 22, 2003


Just for the record, it's really only the pseudoliterate hypercorrecting kind of English that tends to get my disapproval. Yet languagehat is right, eventually there will be enough intelligent and poetic voices from the half-educated suburbs speaking that tongue, that I'll probably find myself capable of appreciating it.

But I'm going to keep my idea of "good." I don't really use it to abuse or judge, but I can't achieve languagehat's Olympian vantage point, from which the differences among styles and idioms aren't "good" & "bad." I am extremely open to finding all kinds of crazy styles & registers seductive & delightful, but I insist on being convinced first. Authenticity usually speaks for itself, and tells me, here's a user of language taking the bull (whatever bull is nearby & familiar, perhaps) by the horns & really riding it with gusto.
posted by Zurishaddai at 9:43 AM on May 22, 2003


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