04 January 2014

Department of Redundancy Department Report: Abbreviations

So thanks to the whole Target debacle, my bank decided to replace my ATM card and its associated numbers. I’m looking over the paperwork they sent me and I’m boggled that their proofreader missed this error:

PIN number

But this wasn’t the only time I’ve seen such a glaring error. In digging through my car’s manual for a part number for my brake system, I stumble across this doozy:

ABS system
I pointed these out to a writer/editor friend of mine and they shook their head. Didn’t see a problem.

Here is the problem. Let me write out the abbreviations for you to see. In parenthesis I will add the word that creates the problem

Personal Identification Number (number)
Antilock Braking System (system)

Written out, you see how the second word becomes a redundant modifier.

Now this isn’t to say all trailing words wouldn’t work.

ABS sensor = Antilock Braking System sensor 

We don’t have a redundancy error with that set up.

Maybe I’m more sensitive to it, having lived and breathed around DC so long that alphabet soup agencies are almost a dietary staple. But it is something worth realizing when you’re writing. Think about the abbreviation you’re using and how the modifier you have following it would read if you wrote out the abbreviation as its word based componnents.

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