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TWTS: Redundancies, or when something is nice enough to name twice

The Rio Grande is certainly a grand river. But not everyone thinks it's grand enough to be called "river" twice, as in the Rio Grande River.

In case you're not up on your Spanish, saying “Rio Grande River” is redundant, since "rio" means "river." This phrase falls into one big category of place names that contain a word or phrase borrowed into English from another language.

Other examples are the Los Altos Hills and the River Avon. These translate to "the the heights hills" and "the river river," respectively. 

The other category of redundancies within a phrase is acronym phrases. “ATM” stands for Automatic Teller Machine, so “ATM machine” is redundant. Two other common examples are LCD display (Liquid Crystal Display) and PIN number (Personal Identification Number).

There's a very clever term for this, which is the RAP phrase, or the Repeated Acronym Phrase phrase.  These types of phrases may be redundant, but if you don't know what the acronym stands for, that redundancy on the end can be helpful.

If you heard someone refer to "HRT" would you know what they were talking about? What if they added "therapy" at the end? That might be enough context for you to figure out that they're talking about Hormone Replacement Therapy, or HRT therapy.

"If you're writing formally, I would say it's probably best to avoid redundancy," says English Professor Anne Curzan.  However, Curzan does go on to say that some redundancies can be helpful when you're processing someone else's speech in real time. "[That's] because if you miss it the first time, you can catch it the second time.”  

Have you noticed any other redundancies that fall into either of these categories?


Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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