Department of Redundancy Department

If you’re not a geek, you probably don’t know that PHP stands for “PHP Hypertext Processor,” if you even know what it is. (Hint: You’re soaking in it!) For that matter, you’re even less likely to know about GNU, or that it stands for “GNU’s Not Unix.”

Geeks love those self-referential language games. They treat them like logic puzzles, thinking that such blandly clever constructions will Blow. Your. Mind.

Except that they don’t, no more than All Cretans Are Liars. (And All Cretins Are Assholes, but that’s just a mere tautology.) Language is not a mirror of the world. It’s not even a system of representation. It’s just a means of expression, better articulated than most. (Ask your cat.) We swim in language, and sometimes pee in it, but we shouldn’t mistake it for the stuff natural scientists deal with. It’s just hot air, dead trees, and excited pixels.

Which is why this annoys the hell out of us:

RAS syndrome stands for redundant acronym syndrome syndrome and refers to the redundant use of one or more of the words that make up an acronym or initialism with the abbreviation itself, thus in effect repeating one or more words. Usage commentators consider such redundant acronyms poor style and an error to be avoided in writing, though they are common in speech.

Did we mention geeks? “RAS syndrome” was coined in 2001 by a writer for New Scientist magazine, superseding the earlier “PIN number syndrome” popularized on Usenet. Because if there’s anyone you want protecting the sanctity of language, it’s a computer nerd.

The logic, of course, is impeccable: If you refer to an Automated Teller Machine as an “ATM machine,” surely you’re committing a Crime Against Rationality. How dare you speak aloud the unspoken component of an acronym you’re stating in the same breath! We shall taunt you for that indiscretion, sir, do you hear us? Taunt!

Except, well, language doesn’t work that way.

If you were around when Automated Teller Machines were introduced (this was before electronic mail became popular), you probably first used the full term, and then, as it became familiar, the acronym. Over time — not much — the acronym became the term. So now we have washing machines, Coke machines, and ATM machines. There may have been a sliver of time — let’s call it 1992, when Usenet geeks were bitching about Personal Identification Numbers — when “ATM machine” did seem redundant, but that’s because the full term was still familiar.

And if you were born that year, welcome to college!

Acronyms collapse all the time, and have done so since long before our Office Space era. We knew what a snafu was long before we knew what it stood for — long before we knew it stood for anything, and wasn’t just another word with mysterious Indo-European roots.

But hey, if you want to insist, no problem. Next time you describe something as “posh,” we’ll just pointedly ask what the hell it has to do with luxury cruise accommodations.

RAS syndrome [Wikipedia, via Kottke]

1. The world is all that is the case.

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.

1.12 For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.

1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.

1.2 The world divides into facts.

1.21 Each item can be the case or not the case while everything else remains the same.

@Noj: when I first saw an ATM (I rarely add ‘machine’), I called it a “money maker”. I quickly learned what overdraft charges were like…

@Serolf Divad:

2. There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.

3. There’s nothing you can see that isn’t shown.

4. There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t meant for you to be.

4.1 It’s easy.

In other words:

Beauty’s truth: Truth beauty.
Gabriel blow your root toot tooty.

Lorenz Hart

Nojo, loved the Madge the manicurist reference. Let’s all go soak in Palmolive Liquid.

My personal language pet peeves (and this comes from being brainwashed in journalism school):

Using historical instead of historic. This is demonstrated throughout the city of Atlanta on historic markers and in announcements on MARTA trains.

Using utilize instead of use.

Using any overly complicated word to make oneself seem smarter.

People bitching at me about not using courtesy titles (Dr., Mrs., Ms., The Very Reverend Child Molester). Fuck you, professor so-and-so.

People bitching at me about using led in my writing rather than lead. Same goes for plead/pled.

AP Style 4 evah!

@rptrcub: Authored instead of wrote.

Absent instead of without.

an-tis-uh-pay-shunnnnn . . . . .

Sucker Punch

Im all girlie about this one. I think I may even plan an overnighter to chicago to see it in IMAX

one of the best trailers ever

Dis-a-gree. We could call them MD doctors and PC computers, because there are, after all, different types of doctors and computers out there, but it would sound as thick as ATM machine.

Speaking of geekdom, y’all ever notice that it takes six fewer syllables to say World Wide Web than double-u-double-u-double-u?

I hate police and military usages. And, plus, also, too, pedants. I believe in correctness as a matter of style and taste and clear expression, not, as Fowler defined pedantry, “as the saying of things in language so learned or so demonstratively accurate as to imply a slur upon the the generality, who are not capable or not desirous of such displays.” Another great quote from Fowler: “Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth – greater indeed, insamuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners.”

@mellbell: “There are large numbers of words differing from each other in almost all respects, but having this point in common, that they are not the plain English for what is meant, not the forms that the mind uses in its private debates to convey to itself what it is talking about, but translations of these into language that is held more suitable for public exhibition. We tell our thoughts, like our children, to put on their hats and coats before they go out; the policeman who has gone to the scene of the disturbance will tell the magistrate that he proceeded there. . .”

We’re not going to get through this without a Wittgenstein reference, are we?

@Prommie: I’m a pedant, but what else would you expect from someone who loves cite-checking?

Rio Grande River

Favorite acronym: FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition)

There’s also some acronyms related to planning and land use I used to run into/use when I did land use law as an environmental lawyer (w/bonus French translations):

InU2’s “Moment of Surrender”, Bono sings about going to the “ATM machine” at about 3:40. (Link: Live video in HD from the 2009 Rose Bowl Show, which was the same show we saw in Vegas. Awesome close to an amazing concert).

@Benedick: Authored instead of wrote.

I’ve got a “friend” on FB who is a playwright, and in his common usage, he only ever writes it this way: “the play I’m wrighting,” or “the play I’ve just wrought,” always using some derivation of the word wright instead of write. Makes me want to smack him upside the head.

“HIV Virus” bugs me.

So does using the word “momentarily” when you mean “in a moment”.

@IanJ: You and me both. I assume he isn’t a member of the Dramatists’ Guild.

@Tommmcat Still Gets Carly Confused With Meg: Darling, that’s what my OED says it means. A usage might be: I shall be round to knock you up momentarily. Or am I confused again?

I knew when I saw this post that we would go for a trip down Rue Wittgenstein. The map is not the terrain. And for the last, er, word, we turn to Monty Python as usual:


No, dear, you will be round “in a moment”. If you knock me up momentarily I will only be knocked up for a moment, do you see the distinction?

@Dodgerblue: Yes, but I wasn’t expecting Serolf to jump in so quickly with the Tractatus.

@nojo: The man knows his shit. Hey Serolf, what’s your take on the poker incident? I’m thinking feature film with Benedick as Wittgenstein and Nojo as Karl Popper.

@Mistress Cynica: Everything I write is just an extended contemplation of “The World As I Found It.”

@Dodgerblue: No poker at Stinque World Domination Headquarters. Will you settle for a broomstick?

I don’t care about acronym usage or misusage, and I hate to be a nitpicker, but misspellings really annoy me.

Could you please correct the misspelling (“cretan”) above?


@mellbell: Cite checking was my favorite paralegal task. What does that say about us? I’ve been proofreading our next catalogue since last Thursday. Even though most of it is my own writing, I get a thrill out of finding mistakes and circling them with my little red pen.

@karen marie: I think that’s a reference to an old logic exercise that had to do with persons from the island of Crete, i. e., Cretans.

@karen marie: Could you please correct the misspelling (“cretan”) above?

The floor’s open.

@nojo: Isn’t there a Danny Kaye song about this? There should be.

@Dodgerblue: Depends. What rhymes with “paradox”?

@nojo: “Pound of lox,” as in “more goddam expensive than a . . .”

@Dodgerblue: While we’re in that neighborhood, I should state for the record that Tom Lehrer is the exception to complaints about geeks and language.

@nojo: NPR played his song The Elements yesterday.

@Tommmcat Still Gets Carly Confused With Meg: I do. And let me add that this is not word I use much. Probably your idea is correct though it’s not what my OED-based puter dictionary is giving me, where the usage is much as I described. My printed Shorter, however, defines the word (somewhat cursorily) as you favor. I suspect that this is a word whose meaning is shifting and that in time it will go the way of ‘peculiar’ which used to mean ‘particular’ – eg. Slavery: the South’s peculiar (read, particular) institution. Or indeed ‘assless chaps’ which, since everyone knows that chaps are by definition assless, can perhaps best be read as a way to particularize the meaning of ‘chaps’ and the expected effect of their asslessness on the spectator.

Were I to be be actually talking about coming round to knock you up I’d be more inclined to say ‘in a heartbeat’ or ‘before your false teeth hit the floor.’ But that’s just me.

I see the Wittgenstein refs have lured noje away from alphabetizing his Phantom recordings.

@nojo: Pair a cocks?

Since it’s Danny Kaye and such as.

i am the last person here to complain about anyone’s language usage, as i mangle it daily, but i do want clarification from our grammarians on the spelling of an important word we use. MORON is the way i spell it, yet better spellers here write MORAN. as usual, i’m not looking it up.

@baked: We purposely misspell it as MORAN in honor of this dude who became a meme on teh Tubez.

@Benedick: @nojo: @Dodgerblue:

Dirty socks
Sleeping flocks
Boring walks
Crashing stocks

Bitter jocks,
Wild fox
Packing box
Titles ad hoc

The wild boondocks!
Summer frocks!
and..let me see…
Long-ass dreadlocks.

These things all rhyme with “paradox”.

@Tommmcat Still Gets Carly Confused With Meg: In fact, you can draw a direct line from the Cretan Paradox, a variant of the liar’s paradox, to Godel’s incompleteness theorem, also, in my view, a complex variant of that same paradox, and one with which Wittgenstein was not impressed, see, e.g., This proves that, as I mentioned earlier, Cretans were not cretins.


The “Get a Brain! Morans” guy truly is the personification of Real America. The only way it could’ve been better is if the sign stated “Get a Brian Moran!”

@Tommmcat Still Gets Carly Confused With Meg: I think I’ll have to turn over all the cards and declare a winner.

@Dodgerblue: I’d like to hear you expound on this theory during our Stinque-up next month, because my only hope of understanding what you just said will come from my being dead drunk.

@Benedick: Dramatists’ Guild? No clue. I don’t know him that well. This is someone who’s part of the Seattle theater scene, and enfriended me on FB pretty much on the basis that I am too, and we should thus be friends.

I’m sure he’s a basically nice guy, but he seems to be pretty full of himself, and goes on long diatribes about how the local big theaters aren’t supporting local playwrights. I’ve never seen one of his shows, so I couldn’t reasonably comment about his skills as a writer (sorry, wrighter).

@redmanlaw: In the same ballpark as Rio Grande River, I hate:

The Los Angeles Angels = The The Angels Angels

The Na Pali Coast = The The Coast Coast

@redmanlaw: Don’t forget the related TARFUN and SNAFU.@Tommmcat Still Gets Carly Confused With Meg: @nojo: I heard this:

Gratuitous Witgenstein references, 15 yeard penalty, replay the last down.

@flippin eck: Be careful what you ask for. This is one of the few topics I remember anything about from the haze of marijuana smoke that was my college years.

@Dodgerblue: Things Are Royally Fucked Up Now.

At least that’s how my peer group uses it – usually associated with reorganizations.

@Walking Still: Also the hoi polloi = the the commoners/rabble.

@IanJ: Speaking of word choices: enfriend vs. befriend? I would say befriend since it’s already in common usage for IRL situations, but does that seem discordant for a social media context? Seems like most people dodge the verb form of friend in that situation and simply say “I added him/her as a friend,” which is admittedly clunky. The word choice is also tricky for the opposite action: defriend vs. unfriend.

@Walking Still: A good description of BP’s response to the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

BTW, for the Stinque legal team, in my day job we are going to the Fifth Circuit today re Judge Feldman’s refusal to recuse himself in the moratorium lawsuit. There has been a new case filed challenging the second moratorium and it was related to him. Big fun on the bayou, as Hank Williams wrote.

@Mistress Cynica: “the many.” Not so pejorative, more like “the man in the street” than “the mob.”

@flippin eck: Never heard of “enfriend.”

And, sorry to say, I’m used to “friend/unfriend/friended” by now. Once I gave up resisting “tweet”, I knew all was lost.

@Walking Still: Isn’t Los Angeles itself an abbreviation of something like Le ciudad de nuestra senora de los angeles?

@Prommie: El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula.

Speaking of Spanish, the judge’s opinion on the Arizona immigration law is here:

@Dodgerblue: Best of luck with the 5th Circuit. Every once in a great while they get something right.

Are there any Judges there that are not (or shouldn’t be) conflicted out?

@Walking Still: Many of them have ties to the oil industry, both at the District Court and Court of App levels. Our local counsel says that there are some very good judges on the District Court in the E.D. of Louisiana. But we didn’t draw one on the moratorium case.

@Tommmcat Still Gets Carly Confused With Meg: Paradox = Boring walks???? I don’t think so. Even allowing for my accent. I leave the cocksucking to Benedick. They let you do that? I did not know that.

@IanJ: You can bet your ass there was some putz in Greece bitching about none of the big amphitheaters in his home town supporting local writers.

@nojo: You’re right, I think the straight-up “I friended” is the most common. But I hear unfriend and defriend used with about equal frequency, so I’m curious if one is pulling ahead of the other for accepted usage.

@flippin eck: I too like friended for that situation.

@flippin eck: Unfriended? To my ear ‘defriended’ sounds vaguely financial. I guess it interferes with ‘defunded’.

@flippin eck: I’m going to make a completely intuitive guess and say “defriend” eventually wins. It just sounds more American.

All rise for “Wish You Were Here” on the coffeehouse steeereo.

Update: As you were.

They let you do that? I did not know that. Of course they do. Sounds like you have some catching up to do, by the way.

As for “Boring Walks” and “Paradox”, in American stage they would both have the same terminal vowel sound- the back open vowel, ɑ (as in, well, “box”) . And in RP it would also rhyme, I believe you would use that far back open vowel particular to your tribesmen, ɒ (as in “hot”).

But why quibble?

Flippin, et al: I chose “enfriended” as being the most alien term for the action I could think of. I’ve never heard/seen it used before, that I can recall. “Friended” wasn’t sufficiently strange for the usage I was trying to convey. Because really, what should you call it when someone you don’t know, and probably wouldn’t get along with in real life inserts himself into your list of friends?

ADD: On the delisting action, I’ve usually used “unfriend,” which I like for its Orwellian overtones. “Defriend” sounds more medical to me, like something you might have surgically removed.

@Dodgerblue: Oh …

My excuse is I am exhausted from keeping up with our Lucy.

@karen marie: PUPPEH EXHAUSTION!!! And, is your cat twice the size of the dog, or is that my imagination?

@Benedick: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Those two are definitely in the top ten worst sins.

@redmanlaw: In Delaware there are (or were 40 years ago) signs to inform you that you are crossing Murder Kill River.

@Nabisco: Wait. You never called them “MACs”? I can’t remember the name of the bank that predated Mellon (Girard?), but when we first got these things, we all called them “MACs” short for “Money Access Machines.” And then I moved to CA and people we like, “WTF”? I was like, you know — that thing that spits out money…

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