Thursday 17 June 2010

PIN Numbers And The Greek Masses

When I put my card into the Barclays cashpoint down the hill it asks me for my Personal Identification Number. The NatWest cashpoint on the high street asks me for my PIN Number, which is, of course, a personal identification number number. 

I use the term pin number, although I'm not sure why. I don't talk about ISP providers as some do, and I'm faintly amused by the 22,000 results Google turns up for the "Irish IRA". But pin number it is, and pin number, I prophesy, it will remain, like a chipped tea-cup that one has become sentimental about.

The New Scientist invented a term for such repetitions back in 2001. They called it RAS Syndrome, the RAS standing for Redundant Acronym Syndrome. But the habit is far older than that. In 1668 John Dryden was already referring to "the hoi polloi". Polloi is Greek for people and Hoi is Greek for the, so the hoi polloi means the the people. Indeed, his is the first usage cited by the OED.

Yet, Hoi polloi it must remain because if we dropped the hoi we'd lose the lovely rhyme that distinguishes the base peasantry from the hoity toity.

And if you're American and have been wondering what in blazes a cashpoint is, it's the British term for an ATM machine.

The Inky Fool freeing the polloi from the hoi

N.B. I am about to try to tinker with the RSS feeds. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, however to me it is a mystery on a par with the incarnation or the hard question of consciousness. If a post doesn't show up tomorrow could you inform me in the comments? In fact, does anybody know whether turning on smartfeed in feedburner simply consolidates all the feeds into one, and if so does it disrupt those who have already subscribed? RSVP please.


  1. Can't help with the RSS feeds (eek!) - but maybe you can shed some light on Pendle Hill (which hill? yes, witch hill). Someone who lived there told me that 'Pen' means 'hill' in Cumbric and 'dle' or 'dell' is from O'Dell - which in the Old English is 'woad hill'. So Pendle Hill means Hill hill hill?
    I so WANT this to be true!

  2. I was expecting a Greek Mass to be something like a Latin Mass, except more rarefied. But this was a very interesting post - I had never noticed the redundancy in "PIN number" before.

    I am presuming that "RAS Syndrome" is a deliberate example of RAS Syndrome. Can you remind me of what you call a word which is itself an example of the sort of thing it refers to?

  3. Anon, Autology. See here for a previous post on the Grelling-Nelson Paradox.
    Brokenbiro, I shall get onto that. I know that Usk was Celtic for river and therefore all rivers Usk and Esk are river-river. I believe the same applies to Sahara and Gobi, which both mean desert, making their names desert desert.

  4. The Antipodean18 June 2010 at 07:38

    *polite cough* "Prophecy?" she says, sipping from her chipped fine bone china coffee-mug.

    Actually I probably wouldn't talk and sip at the same time, but you get the gist.

  5. The Antipodean18 June 2010 at 09:08

    Ooh, and doesn't 'Avon' mean 'River' as well? We have one in WA, four others in Australia and plenty more elsewhere. This would give us Stratford-Upon-River, which is not quite as pretty.

    Also, not quite the same thing, but in a bit of a crossover to the Malay post, apparently reduplication may occur in some
    indigenous Australian languages
    as well, which has resulted in place names literally repeating themselves.

    Gingin is my personal favourite, and a nice quiet little place, too.

  6. I'm told the La Brea Tar Pits means "the The Tar Tar Pits." Okay.

  7. Miss Biro, I have consulted my dictionary of place names and it is utterly true. *Penn is Celtic for hill. You add the Anglo-Saxon hyll (apparently "explanatory") leave it to get slurred for a few centuries and you get Pendle. And then you add hill.
    You've no idea how dull dictionaries of place names are. I have, officially, lost the will to live in anywhere other than Quendon.

  8. I think the "polloi" is the "many", not the "people"