While acronyms add a colloquial flair to writing, they are easy to misuse. If we're not careful, improper acronym usage can cause immense reader pain. But before we go and diagnose the root cause of our reader's discomfort, we need to set the record straight about something.
Acronyms vs. Initialisms
Acronyms and Initialisms are different things.
- An acronym is a new word made from letters of other words, pronounced as a complete word, e.g. “SCUBA” (pronounced scu-ba instead of being spelled out s-c-u-b-a)
- An initialism is an abbreviation made from letters of other words, pronounced as individual letters, e.g. “FBI” or “ATM”.
Writers often confuse “acronym” and “initialism” and use the terms interchangeably. While it is important to know the difference between the two, we have bigger issues to tackle today. For the purposes of this article, “acronym” will also refer to “initialism”.
With that out of the way, let’s make sure our writing never suffers from RAS Syndrome again!
RAS (Redundant Acronym Syndrome) Syndrome represents misused acronyms in writing. The name itself is indicative of the problem: “Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome” is not something anyone would say out loud. Yet writers often misuse acronyms this way.
Common RAS Syndrome Examples
- ATM machine or Automated Teller Machine machine
- PIN number or Personal Identification Number number
- VIN number or Vehicle Identification Number number
- SSN number or Social Security Number number
- LCD display or Liquid Crystal Display display
- HIV virus or Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus
- CNN news or Cable News Network news
- Please RSVP or Please respond s’il vous plait (French for “please”)
- IRA Account or Individual Retirement Account account
- FBI Investigation or Federal Bureau of Investigation investigation
Pluralized RAS Syndrome
In rare cases, RAS Syndrome extends to mis-pluralizing an acronym. This happens when pluralizing an acronym while the final expanded word does not have a plural form. For example, “Run Batted Ins” is improper, yet “RBIs” is a common usage.
RAS Syndrome Test
RAS Syndrome is easy to prevent. Know what an acronym stands for before using it. While acronyms are common, they are easy to use without knowing their meaning. As writers, we must only use an acronym if we understand what words it represents and can therefore avoid the pitfalls of misuse.
When writing an acronym, consider the unabbreviated words. If the sentence makes sense with the unabbreviated words, as well as the acronym, it is RAS-free. If the sentence has a redundancy, it’s suffering from RAS Syndrome and needs rewriting.
As a bonus, ProWritingAid’s Cliches & Redundancies Report will find most acronyms suffering from RAS Syndrome!
Were any of our RAS examples a surprise to you? Let us know in the comments below.