Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Machine Machines and Number Numbers

Posted by Neal on June 19, 2004

I wonder what you’d call a machine whose function was to make automatic teller machines (ATMs). Would it be called an ATM machine? Well, no, of course not, since ATM machine means the same thing as plain old ATM: If you see a sign saying “ATM machine inside” when you enter a grocery store, you will find an ordinary ATM, and you won’t find some other kind of machine that has something to do with ATMs.

This kind of redundancy also occurs with acronyms whose final N stands for number.
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4 Responses to “Machine Machines and Number Numbers”

  1. John said

    That was a great sense for play on words. Many times you can tell that anyone can be in the ATM business. Being in the atm business myself, I can contest to it!

  2. The Ridger said

    Coming late, since I found this post and the linked one via polyglot conspiracy, but we have an id card called a Common Access Card, or CAC. Except everyone calls it a CAC card.

  3. Michael Enright said

    Another category which I think should be called a “blind stacked acronym: is remarked on in “Windows NT was Microsoft’s first server operating system. (The NT stands for New Technology, which means that the Windows 2003 Server slogan “Built on NT Technology” expands to “Built on New Technology Technology”)as found at http://wiki.linuxquestions.org/wiki/NT.

    An on the subject of acronyms, I thought an acronym was required to be a word. And that a string of initial letters, not a word, was an “initialism.’ Although that word may never have been used, was it ever used?

    Was that verbal polysemiousness? If so it that rare or common?

    • Neal said

      Michael:
      I wrote about what you mentioned, calling it “redundant acronym expansion”. It was a guest post on the Volokh Conspiracy, but it should be linked here in one of the acronym posts.

      Yes, there is a distinction between acronyms and initializations, but I usually don’t bother to observe it. If I ever need to make a distinction, I know the other word is available .

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