"NIV Version": Redundant?

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I often hear statements involving an acronym and then one of the terms the acronym stands for immediately after. So it might be something like talking about the NIV version of the Bible (New International Version version), the GOP party (Grand Old Party party_, the HIV virus (HIV: Human Immuno-deficiency Virus), your ATM card's PIN number (PIN: personal identification number), or the ATM machine itself (ATM: automated teller machine). See Wikipedia's entry on RAS Syndrome (RAS: Redundant Acronym Syndrome) for many more examples and further discussion of this phenomenon (though, as I will explain, I find their conclusion that this phenomenon is incorrect to be itself incorrect; they do go on and give justifications for doing the technically incorrect thing, but I don't even think it's right to say it's technically incorrect).

What I hear people saying frequently in such cases is that "NIV version" is redundant (or whatever example it might be; this isn't about Bible versions but about acronyms). In most of these cases, the final word that the acronym stands for is repeated immediately after the acroynm, and that's said to be repeating something that the meaning of teh acronym already contained. Therefore, it's redundant. I used to think this was the right thing to say. Now I'm not so sure. Is "NIV version" redundant? Is "HIV virus" redundant? Is "PIN number" redundant? I say no.

Suppose I told you I had three Bible versions on my shelf. One version is the one called the NLT. Another version is the NASB. The third is the version called NIV. That means there are three: the NLT, NIV, and NASB versions.

Suppose I told you I had three Bible translations on my shelf. One translation is the one called the NLT. Another translation is the NASB. The third is the translation called NIV. That means there are three: the NLT, NIV, and NASB translations.

Suppose I told you I had three Bibles on my shelf. One Bible is the one called the NLT. Another Bible is the NASB. The third Bible is called the NIV. That means there are three: the NLT, NIV, and NASB Bibles.

These all sound ok to me. Does it matter for the first that one of the letters in 'NIV' stands for 'Version'? Does it matter for the second that one of the letters in 'NLT' stands for translation? Does it matter for the third that one of the letters in 'NASB' stands for 'Bible'? These are acronym names that involve abbreviations of descriptive names, but they're still names. Their acceptable use is that of names, not descriptions, particularly in acronym form. I'm having trouble seeing why I shouldn't talk about my NASB Bible, my NLT translation, or my NIV version. There may be something awkward about it, but the name in acronym form doesn't automatically convey the sense of the term in the descriptive origin of the name, so I just don't think it's right to call these constructions redundant.

When I talk about the HIV virus, I'm talking about the virus that we call HIV. That acronym has become a name. It's a name for a virus. So we can refer to the virus by its name. We can call it the virus HIV. We can call it the HIV virus. That sounds perfectly fine to my ears, as long as we no longer think of the acronym as an acronym standing for things but rather as a name.

That's what acronyms quickly become. They're not mere descriptions. They become names, and we treat them as names. There's really nothing wrong with treating them like any other name, therefore, which means not treating them as abbreviations of descriptions. If they were merely abbreviations of descriptions, expressions like 'the HIV virus' or 'the ATM machine' would sound funny. The fact that they don't sound funny shows that they're not abbreviated descriptions. That's not how these lexical terms function in English.

Those who make fun of people who say things like this are therefore ignorant about how the English language works. It's kind of ironic that it's so easy for people to place themselves as having a superior understanding of language by making fun of people who talk about PIN numbers, when doing so is actually betraying their own ignorance of how language works. Unfortunately, this sometimes goes along with a sense of superiority about being a better master of the language, and as with those who criticize President Bush's regional dialect as unintelligent it just turns out to be arrogant ignorance disguised as intelligence and superiority, a very unattractive combination.

Funny afterthought: Right after I finished my second draft of this post, Wayne Leman left a comment on this post referring to his BBB blog. His blog's name: Better Bibles blog!

9 Comments

BBB blog! Good eyes, Jeremy!

Yes, I agree with you: the acronyms have become names. And, of course, the reason that many people early in an article will put the full rendering of the acronym in parentheses after it is for clear communication. It is to help those who may not be familiar with a certain acronym. Acronyms are jargon names, familiar to those who are "in the know," who speak the jargon.

I enjoy your writings on topics like this. Thanks for posting them.

Wayne, of the BBB (Better Bibles Blog) blog :-)

Maybe I'm missing the point, but isn't "RAS Syndrome" redundant?

I'd go further and say that a _lot_ of language criticism betrays a lack of understanding of language. "that's not a word", for example, is almost always a bogus criticism. Words are coined constantly in any living language. Objecting to a coining on the grounds that it's not in the dictionary is like objecting to the existence of a start on the grounds that it's not in an official catalog.

Similarly, not ending a sentence with a preposition, using whom rather than who, avoiding contractions, and similar complaints neglect the fact of language evolution.

Doc set me off, but one of my favorite sayings is, "Never use a preposition to end a sentence with."

Mike, that's part of the joke.

Abednego - I like Churchill's demonstration that there are times when the "no ending sentences with prepositions" rule has to go: "That is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put!"

Well, I'm a little slow on the uptake, I guess. I guess I'll stick to things I know, like writing a post in support Bush's nomination of Julia Roberts for the SCOTUS.

Wink,

I'd forgotten that one. It's definitely a good one, probably even better than mine. Although it makes Yoda sound a little Churchillian.

Ur, that should be: like objecting to a _star_ because doesn't occur in the catalogs. What the heck is a "start" and why would it be in a catalog?

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