Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Neal Whitman asks what you would call a machine that makes ATMs? An ATM machine? Oops, too many people already say "ATM machine" when they really mean "ATM," as if it somehow didn't suffice that the "M" already stands for "machine." Whitman looks at several similar examples (i.e., "PIN number"), and offers a theory as to why people like redundancy in acronyms. Item one: "They [the acronyms] all end in a nasal consonant (M or N)."

There's a problem with this, though: The commonly-used phrase "HIV virus," which turns up 404,000 hits on Google. What accounts for this example of redundancy, heard throughout the USA of America?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are so many TLA's (Three Letter Acronyms) flying around that the meaning of many can be confused, even in context. A little bit of redundancy helps fight the confusion.

Also, I believe that the majority of people using TLA's either don't understand they are an acronym or don't know the exact phrase being abbreviated, leading to redundant repetition. For example, many people could believe that HIV are the initials of the doctors who discovered the virus.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I can't speak for the other but "PIN number" makes a lot of sense when spoken. At least to a comp sci guy. Unfortunately, there are things called pins. And pens. And sometimes (often) when spoken, people will do a double take. Without "number," some people take a second or two to figure out what you are talking about.

By being redundant, brain processing time is shortened.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say that's it: Too many TLA's, for them to be usable by themselves outside of very specific contexts. Speaking the whole last word removes the ambiguity.

Then there's my bank, now officially named "CSB Bank". Formerly "Capac State Bank"; We affectionately call it the "bank bank".

9:40 AM  
Blogger Kaimi said...

Or the Windows screen that says "powered by NT technology" -- umm, doesn't NT stand for "new technology"? (See ).

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the head noun issue which he also discusses. HIV is a type of virus. "HIV virus" means "the virus which is called HIV;" perfectly logical, in fact. "The Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus."

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SAT test vs. SAT9 test
(college board vs. stanford)

i agree a certain amount of redundancy is good because it makes things clearer.

4:55 PM  

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