Avoiding RAS syndrome: Common cases of redundant acronym syndrome

Illustration of a person standing in front of an ATM, inputting their PIN. Various redundant acronyms are labeled, like "ATM machine."
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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Acronyms are great. They’re incredibly useful, whether to make our writing more concise or to fit more words in a tweet. They’ve become so common that sometimes, the official title of a commonly used acronym looks unseemly, causing us to take a second look. Some acronyms, however, are now so common that they’re often used improperly, adjacent to words that make the phrase redundant.

A caveat: Some individuals believe acronyms refer to phrases shortened into words that are pronounced as words, such as “NATO” and “radar,” while initialisms are phrases shortened into the first letters of each word pronounced, such as “FBI” and “BFF.” In this article, “acronym” refers to both definitions.

Here are some acronyms that often suffer from redundant acronym syndrome, or RAS.

BFF

Have you ever used or heard the phrase “BFFs forever?” Or, even worse, “best BFFs forever?” Almost everyone knows what “BFF” stands for, yet many still choose to tack on an extra “forever.” Sure, they might be emphasizing how long the friendship will last, but that extra word is both unnecessary and grammatically incorrect.

ATM

By far one of the most common cases of RAS is probably “ATM machine.” However, given that knowing “ATM” stands for “automated teller machine” is less prevalent than knowing “BFF” stands for “best friends forever,” this is more forgivable, and many likely won’t notice if you make this mistake. Acronyms exist to make our lives easier, though, and saying or typing out an extra “machine” only wastes your own time.

SSN, VIN and PIN

Do you notice each of these acronyms ends with the letter “N”? Each of these acronyms has “number” embedded within it. Thus, the phrases “SSN number,” “VIN number” and “PIN number” are redundant, yet they’re used excessively. The next time someone asks for your “SSN/VIN/PIN number,” you might want to reconsider whether you truly want to provide them with this information.

RSVP

If you aren’t familiar with the French language, you may not know that “RSVP” actually stands for “répondez s’il vous plaît,” or “please reply.” Too often, invitations state “please RSVP,” adding an additional “please.” Now perhaps, the host wants to be extra polite or really wants you to attend, but more likely, “RSVP” has been incorrectly interpreted to mean “let me know if you’re coming.” The next time you send out invitations, avoid RAS by simply saying “RSVP.”

POC

This acronym is different from the others in that generally, people don’t make the mistake of using “POC people” or “POC of color.” What is common, however, is the use of “POC” as an adjective when it is a noun. Common examples are using “POC students” and “POC voters” when referring to students of color and voters of color. While “students of color” and “students who are POC” are grammatically correct, “people of color students” is not. Perhaps this isn’t exactly a case of RAS, as unfortunately, the proper use does not save time or space. But the unintentional yet unnecessary use of two nouns in the phrase is somewhat redundant, earning it a spot on this list.

These are just a few of the acronyms often subject to RAS. Before you use an acronym next time, read out what the letters stand for, avoid saying extra words and save your time or Twitter characters! 

Jocelyn Huang is the night editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jocelynxhuang.