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January 7, 2009 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Why do I continually see the phrase 'ATM machine' in print and from otherwise intelligent publishing outlets? We all know it's redundant...

I understand hearing people say 'ATM machine' out of habit (much like we hear inaccurate phrases like 'could care less') but I am disturbed when I read the obviously redundant phrase in news publications and on otherwise reliable signage.

Has this become an acceptable idiom to everyone but me?

Today's offender: CNN
posted by shew to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Has this become an acceptable idiom to everyone but me?

Not just you, and it is an acceptable idiom.
posted by rhizome at 12:57 PM on January 7, 2009


I think it's just dissonance -- ATM isn't so much an acronym in people's minds as a word itself --ayy-tee-em--so the redundancy doesn't occur to them.

DSW Shoe Warehouse was DSW Shoe Warehouse on some signage around here for a long time and I still refer to it as "DSW Shoe Warehouse Shoe Warehouse."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:58 PM on January 7, 2009


Some answers why.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:58 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


They got over it -- by the way. The store signs I've seen recently are simply "DSW."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2009


Same reason people say "the reason why" or "first started." These are all technically redundant, but shortening them to deal with the redunancy could just make them harder to understand. Despite the generally good advice to be concise and avoid redunancy, sometimes a bit of redundancy is useful for emphasis, clarity, etc.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:02 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Don't forget its equally incorrect cousin, PIN number.
posted by shallowcenter at 1:03 PM on January 7, 2009


I belong to a club whose acronym is something like SIC, the last letter standing for "club". But everyone refers to it as "SIC Club." I've always thought it was because people don't like referring to objects with just acronyms. So it's PIN number and ATM machine, as opposed to acronyms that refer to an active process like AWOL and SOL. (Though I realize one could come up with a thousand examples that refute this.)
posted by meerkatty at 1:12 PM on January 7, 2009


Same reason why people pluralize RBI (runs batted in for the non-sports types). The acronym has become a work people no longer associate with the individual words that comprise said acronym.
posted by DrDreidel at 1:13 PM on January 7, 2009


Well, ATM could stand for a lot of things.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATM

Feel better now?
posted by yohko at 1:30 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


it is an acceptable idiom

Acceptable or commonplace in spoken colloquial American English doesn't mean acceptable in written formal American English, of which news reports are an example.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:30 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, in my own idiomatic usage, I often use atm machine and atm to denote separate things. Sometimes when I'm out I need to go to an actual bank, and sometimes I just need to go to anywhere where I can get cash, meaning I can also go to a grocery store and use my debit card. Since actual ATMs tend to be at banks, I tend to denote my need to visit a bank by saying "I need to go to an ATM machine" - ie, I need to go to the actual machine, not just get cash back.
posted by Kiablokirk at 1:47 PM on January 7, 2009


"Redundant" does not imply "wrong." Language is full of redundancy. The second "redundant" in your own question is itself redundant (you had already said once the phrase was redundant) but that doesn't make it wrong.

Redundancy in language means that a sentence often remains understandable even if the listener misheard a word, or the reader isn't reading super-carefully.

Acceptable or commonplace in spoken colloquial American English doesn't mean acceptable in written formal American English

Acceptable or commonplace in spoken colloquial American English also doesn't mean not acceptable in written formal American English. The usage [acronym] [word that last letter of acronym stands for] has been around for nearly 40 years, at least: cf. SALT talks.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:55 PM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Most people have no problem with putting their PIN number into the ATM machine. I think it's the fault of whoever created the acronym. If they had said "I'm typing my PI number into the AT machine" we wouldn't have this problem.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the things my company does is publishes a news web site aimed at ATM operators. We specifically have "ATM machine" in the title and meta tags because, simply put, that's what people search for. That's what people call them.
posted by jbickers at 2:11 PM on January 7, 2009


Has this become an acceptable idiom to everyone but me?

Pretty much, and frankly I don't think this post is an honest request for information so much as an excuse to vent ("ATM machine" sux AMIRITE??) and thus by definition chatfilter. I note as relevant information that I have flagged more than half the comments in this thread as noise/derail (Note: Ask MetaFilter is as useful as you make it. Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Wisecracks don't help people find answers), and that doesn't happen with a normal AskMe question that seeks a real answer.

There is nothing wrong with "ATM machine"; it is standard usage nowadays. I'm sorry you don't like it, but surely there are other, more serious defects in the universe you live in. Read and assimilate DevilsAdvocate's comment and try to get over it.
posted by languagehat at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


[A whole bunch of comments removed. There's a linguistics/usage question to be answered here, if you can, but save the jokes and "oh and THIS OTHER THING drives ME crazy" stuff, please.]
posted by cortex at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you care about your use of language, your need for correctness can easily surpass that of newspaper editors - even at the New York Times. Errors of this magnitude occur in nearly every CNN story. Lower your expectations or prepare to be annoyed on a daily basis.

(Did you notice how I used a hyphen instead of a dash? If so, it's too late for you.)
posted by yath at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2009


Acceptable or commonplace in spoken colloquial American English also doesn't mean not acceptable in written formal American English.

Didn't mean to imply otherwise. I only meant that "this is common in everyday language" isn't good evidence of what current good form for professional writers in formal settings is, or isn't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:05 PM on January 7, 2009


For me, at least part of this is that I was using banks before there were ATMs, and the banks in my region used a service called Money Access Center (MAC). So we called all bank machines "the MAC machine." When they started to be called ATMs, I, for one, often found myself just substituting the acronym and still saying "the ATM machine." Today I just say "bank machine" or "money machine" and the hell with it.

Other acronym phrases often used redundantly: "HIV virus." "DSL line." "OPEC nations."

It really doesn't matter. There are lots of redundancies in English (freezing cold! free gift! close proximity! completely surrounded! end result! pre-recorded! plan ahead! filled to capacity! tuna fish!) As noted above, it's not that redundancy is wrong in itself. Human beings use it for the emphasis they hear in it. Of course, it's good style to avoid redundancy when writing, but that doesn't make anyone an idiot for saying "ATM machine."
posted by Miko at 6:10 PM on January 7, 2009


TCBY yogurt, anyone?
posted by goethean at 6:26 PM on January 7, 2009


GOB Bluth!
posted by carpyful at 7:07 PM on January 7, 2009


Look, where I work, ATM means "Ass To Mouth." It can be handy to distinguish.

As to news sources, you're likely to see confused usage because a) newspapers are stupidly conservative in their adoption of any tech lingo, and b) there isn't an entry on ATMs in most styleguides (AP and Chicago are what I have handy), and clarity is always the dominant principle when style guides are silent.

So, you have older editors who are unclear on whether people will get "the Web" recasting it as "the World Wide Web" or insisting on initial caps in "Internet" also deciding that "ATM" is too confusing on its own.

The Andy Rooney Syndrome.
posted by klangklangston at 7:52 PM on January 7, 2009


I'm old enough to remember when everyone called computers "IBM machines."
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:50 PM on January 7, 2009


This is just idiom. It's communication. It's the way the language often works. I certainly wouldn't blink at seeing it in a newspaper -- there's more than one level of "formal written English", and certainly CNN articles are generally one step above a broadcast transcript, which is itself one step of formality above colloquial.

I'm rather astonished to be told it isn't addressed in two major style guides at all. They've only been around for a generation! But that probably reflects the near-standard usage of "ATM machine" as much as anything.

To the extent these foibles exist, the proper response is a muted chuckle.
posted by dhartung at 12:11 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


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