RAS Syndrome: Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome

RAS syndrome
ATM stands for automated teller machine, and so the expression ATM machine is an example of RAS syndrome. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

RAS syndrome is a humorous initialism for "Redundant Acronym [or Abbreviation] Syndrome syndrome": the (redundant) use of a word that's already included in an acronym or initialism. Also known as PNS syndrome ("PIN number syndrome syndrome") and acronym-assisted pleonasm.

Common examples of RAS syndrome include PIN number (personal identification number number), AC current (alternating current current) and HIV virus (human immunodeficiency virus virus). Such redundancies, says Bryan Garner, "may be passable in speech—especially with unfamiliar acronyms—[but] they should be avoided in formal writing" (Garner's Modern American Usage, 2009).

The term RAS syndrome first appeared in the magazine New Scientist (May 26, 2001).

Examples and Observations

  • LCD display for liquid crystal display display
  • CNN network for Cable News Network network
  • RAM memory for random-access memory memory
  • RSI injury for repetitive strain injury injury 
  • SARS syndrome for severe acute respiratory syndrome syndrome
  • MVUE estimator for minimum-variance unbiased estimator estimator
  • CMS system for content management system system
  • BBC corporation for British Broadcasting Corporation corporation
  • IRA account for individual retirement account account
  • PCR reaction for polymerase chain reaction reaction

Redundancies Everywhere You Lo​ok

"'I overheard part of your ATM story and I just couldn't let it go by. Do you know what ATM stands for?'

"'Of course. Automated teller machine.'

"'He went to college,' Robin said.

"'Okay, how about PIN?

"'You mean as in PIN number?'

"'Aha!' she exclaimed again. 'Now do you see it?' The bartender brought her drink and she took a careful sip, then came back to them. 'You said you were at the ATM machine and forgot your PIN number. The automated teller machine machine and the personal information number number. Redundancies everywhere you look.'"
(John Lescroart, The Hunter. Dutton, 2012)

Reply RSVP

"The request reply RSVP' is pretty much the same thing as you're being asked to reply twice. . . . [T]he word 'Sahara' means 'great desert' in Arabic (via Tuareg), so referring to that big, hot, sandy place in North Africa as the 'Sahara Desert' is totally tautological, meaning as it does 'great desert desert.'"
(Roger Horberry, Sounds Good on Paper: How to Bring Business Language to Life. Bloomsbury, 2010)

The Lighter Side of RAS Syndrome

Sidney Cochran: I am going to bed. We have a 10 a.m. plane to catch in the morning.
Diana Barrie: 10 a.m. is the morning. That is redundant, you A.H.
(Michael Caine and Maggie Smith in California Suite, 1978)