A beginner’s guide to redundant acronyms (NB: RAT not RAT test)

To join the comedy gala, you first had to tickle your nose. Five times clockwise…

To join the comedy gala, you first had to tickle your nose. Five times clockwise in the left nostril, then ditto the right. Not for laughs, but confirmation of your viral-free status. Comedians, emcees, backstage crew: all noses need poking before the curtains could part.

To quote the gala’s SMS message: “A photo of your latest RAT test results must be sent to management.” Efficient. Precautious. Redundant too, as the memo wasted a word. Can you spot it? Like the SARS Cov-2 virus itself, the scourge is contagious.

So far this column has fallen thrice to the curse, yet how many lapses have you registered? Check my acronyms, or at least those cases where initials have appeared. Three out of three, I’ve fallen for RAS Syndrome, a self-descriptive tag for Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome.

Maybe this spate of inbuilt redundancy is a subtle COVID-19 symptom?

Maybe this spate of inbuilt redundancy is a subtle COVID-19 symptom?

The habit is epidemic. Each time you punch your PIN number into an ATM machine, or scan a PDF format on a PC computer, you succumb. Cricket fans insist that more games in the BBL league rely on a DRS review (literally a Decision Review System review) or the opaque calculus of the DLS system (Duckworth-Lewis System system).

Before we go further, let’s appease the purists. NATO is an acronym, in league with FOMO and IKEA, scuba and Anzac – abbreviations built of initials that create an utterable word. Compare that to DNA or FAQ, which answer to initialisms, since we don’t say deena or fark. WA is double-you-ay, not wah, so technically can’t be called an acronym, just as a VIP with BO (as utterable as all that seems) will never be a vip with boh.

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Duplicitous examples exist too, those contractions oscillating between both categories. ASAP, say, can either be spelt, or spoken as a word-like word, in tandem with LOL and WHO. A foot in both camps, these clusters should be called tacroynms (since they switch direction), or interstitialisms, for falling through the cracks.

Given this bedlam, I’ve used acronym as the generic label, whether we fly Qantas (acronym) or KLM (initialism). Taxonomy is less the issue here, than tautology, our growing need to browse DC comics on the XPT train, cram for SAT tests, study for the HSC certificate, or reheat a bucket of KFC chicken using LPG gas.

To be fair, in some contexts, RAS Syndrome can avoid ambiguity. Imagine if I say, “I tackled my bass on the weekend.” You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d spent Sunday catching native perch instead of dealing with my Business Activity Statement. If a tailor forgot her pin, did she overlook her personal code, or professional jabber?