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PIN number - The online computery journal thingy of a turtle

Jul. 28th, 2010

06:01 pm - PIN number

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You know what? I've decided there's nothing wrong with saying "PIN number". Yeah, I know the N stands for "number". But as grammatical errors go, redundancy (which lessens confusion) is nowhere near as bad as omission or ambiguity (which causes or worsens confusion).

"PIN number" is a perfectly good name. Let's look at the official existing names: "personal identification number", which is a mouthful, and "PIN", which I think goes against two important psychological tendencies that people have. One is the desire to avoid confusion, which is in conflict with the fact that "pin" is an existing word with meanings unrelated to ATM transactions. Saying "PIN number" is clearer than just "PIN".

Scenario 1:
"I lost my PIN!"
"Did you say pen?"1
"No, PIN."
"Oh. Should I help you look for it? Is it sharp? Should I watch where I step?"
"No, you idiot..."

Scenario 2:
"I lost my PIN number!"
"Uh-oh. Were you able to get cash?"
"Yeah, but I had to go in and wait in line..."

The other tendency is to use full nouns to describe modern things, rather than just abbreviations.2 3 Nearly all important numbers that people have to deal with nowadays are "(something) numbers". There's your phone number, your account number, your flight number, your room number, etc. So when you go to the bank to get money, and you don't want to wait in line, what do you use? The machine. What machine? The ATM machine. And to use this machine, what do you punch into the keypad? Your number. What number? Why, your PIN number, of course!

Sure the N in PIN stands for "number". So what? It's just a bit of redundancy, which is not the evil force some people seem to think it is. In my study of foreign languages, I've found that many grammatical rules we think are set in stone are really just arbitrary. For example, double negatives. I'm sure you've heard, maybe even had, conversations like this:

"I don't know nothin'."
"So, you *do* know *something*?"

But in some languages, such as French, Spanish and Italian, double negatives are considered correct. Edith Piaf sang "Non, je ne regrette rien" (literally, "No, I don't regret nothing"), but nobody ever said to her, "Alors, vous regrettez quelque chose, oui?"

So, I don't think we should be too hard on people who say "PIN number" (or even "ATM machine", for that matter). "PIN number" is a colloquial term for the series of digits you enter when you need cash. The people who say it aren't stupid, they're just not all that technologically-minded, and they just want to call a number a "number", and a machine a "machine". And a spade a "spade".

And honestly, language is a communication tool, and I disapprove of using it as a game of "gotcha".

Scenario 3:
"I lost my PIN number!"
"Your personal identification number number? LOL!"
"Shut up."



1. A perfect example of colloquial redundancy: in many parts of the South, people pronounce the words "pen" and "pin" the same, so they call a pen an "ink pen" to avoid confusion, even though pens use ink by definition.

2. Another good example is my answering machine. The manual calls it a "TAD" (telephone answering device). It only defines this acronym once, but then uses it obsessively throughout. Opening the manual to a random page, I can find stuff like:

- Once you turn on the TAD, it is set to answer calls (see "Setting the TAD to Answer Calls" on Page 16).
- You can also turn on the TAD remotely (see "Remote Commands" on Page 24).


3. There are abbreviations that people use by themselves without a full word involved, but these tend to be older and well-established, like "the USA" or "the USSR".

Comments:

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From:sagejackal
Date:July 28th, 2010 11:10 pm (UTC)
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I suppose one way of appeasing both camps would be to say PI number. ;p
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:July 28th, 2010 11:12 pm (UTC)
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But that's no good because nobody's heard of that, and you'd have to explain it every time you used it.

Scenario 4:
"I lost my PI number!"
"Your pie number? So now you can't get pie?"
"No, he means 3.1415926."
"No no no..."
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From:dv_girl
Date:July 28th, 2010 11:11 pm (UTC)
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You could call it a PI number but that comes with at least 3.14 confusions.

Not to mention raising false-excitement in those who mishear the name as 'PIE number'
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:July 28th, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
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See my comment to sagejackal. :}
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From:darksasami
Date:July 28th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
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"Setting the TAD to answer calls" sounds like something Pogo would do to the li'l rackety coon chile if'n he were goin' out.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:July 28th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
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My thoughts exactiwockles!
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From:orv
Date:July 28th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
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"VIN number" is another one. "VIN" is pretty distinctive, but it's a term people encounter rarely enough that they seem to need the added nudge of "number" to remind them what's being discussed. (This one is actually even more dubious, since these days a VIN contains letters as well as numbers.)

The real root of this is frequently-used acronyms become words in their own right. People no longer think of them as representing a collection of other words, after a while.

I've noticed some acronyms utterly fail to converge, though. For example, in auto repair literature, the dash light that indicates an engine problem (usually labeled "CHECK ENGINE" on US cars) is sometimes referred to as the CEL (for Check Engine Light) and sometimes the MIL (Malfunction Indicator Light.)
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:July 29th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
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Yeah, and I'm thinking that not only has this not happened to "PIN", it may never happen thanks to the popularity of "PIN number". And my main point is, I'm not sure this is a bad thing.

CEL? That's what an animator inks & paints on! (Well, not anymore thanks to digital work...)
MIL? That means "military"!
:}
Of course, everybody just calls it the "check engine light". People seem to have an upper tolerance of about five syllables for names of things ("hot water heater", "fire extinguisher", etc.) And of course, "personal identification number" blows way past that limit.
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From:wbwolf
Date:July 29th, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
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THAT'S REDUNDANT!

And who am I to argue with Graw Mad...
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From:aerofox
Date:July 29th, 2010 12:55 am (UTC)
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then there is poor lobowolf
Who is quite redundant ^_^
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From:wolflahti
Date:July 29th, 2010 01:16 am (UTC)
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Wrong is wrong, no matter how one may wish it otherwise.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:July 29th, 2010 03:12 am (UTC)
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That's more of a mathematical attitude. English has rules, yes, but they're a little more flexible in everyday usage. And artistic efforts. I mean, you wouldn't criticize "Fats" Waller for not calling his song "I Am Not Misbehaving", would you?
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From:michaelmink
Date:July 29th, 2010 01:37 am (UTC)
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PIN, I think, was one of those things that started out as an acronym, but because it was put into use so often ("enter your PIN"), ironically it had to have the "number" tag put after it. So it's no longer redundant, since PIN has lost its original meaning, in a way.

My view, anyway.
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From:megadog
Date:July 29th, 2010 08:14 am (UTC)
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Here in the UK, State schools test their kids at 7, 11 and 14, using the same set of tests throughout the country. These tests are called "Srandard Assessment Tests".

What really peeves me is when people - even supposedly-educated people such as *teachers* - refer to these as the "SAT's Tests".

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From:yakko
Date:July 29th, 2010 11:29 am (UTC)
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I would never say "PIN number" myself, but lots of others do. They know what I'm talking about, because they (usually) can pick up on what I mean by looking at the overall context, and of course I know what they mean, because they said "PIN number."
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From:woyro
Date:July 29th, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
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dont the southerners pronounce it "Aynk (rhymes with Wank) Pen"...like: "Hand me over that Aynk Pen. almost makes it sound like a pen made in the shape of an Egyptian Cross. or is that ANKH? "Ankh, Ankh", said the Egyptian goose.
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From:thecanuckguy
Date:July 29th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
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> "the USA" or "the USSR"

*clang* ... *clang* ... *clang*

"We are ordinary people, living ordinary lives ... "

Sorry, 80s rock nostalgia when I read that. Where was I ...
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From:oniomancer
Date:July 29th, 2010 09:37 pm (UTC)
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Now if we can just straighten out why you have to say "You Are el" instead of "Earl" but you don't say "jay pee ee gee" or "pee en gee", etc.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:July 30th, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)
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Yeah, see, it's arbitrary. It's not what's the most efficient or logical thing to say, it's whatever's taken hold first.

In fact, my entry in the "best thing to say other than PIN number" contest would be "PI number", with the P and I pronounced separately: "pee eye number". But if I tried using it, I'd have to explain it to people every time.
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