Submitted by jamesrigg on January 6, 2006

Discussion forum

Am I not right in thinking that the phrase “discussion forum”, as often used to refer to bulletin boards on websites, is a tautology?

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When an acroynym ends up with one of its member words added on, there can be a number of causes:
1. The acronymn simply doesn't work without the addition. Could anyone really say "SAL talks?" This sometimes comes from:
2. The people who invented the acronymn were too cute or clever. Sometimes people seem to make up the acronym first, and then figure out what it could stand for. This means that they have to use the word that will be needed to explain what the acronym refers to. Again, we have "SALT talks."
3. The acronymn is awkward grammatically. "Strategic Arms Limitation Talks" is plural, but "SALT" is the same as a singular noun. "The SALT were cancelled today" sounds stupid and "The SALT was cancelled today" is grammatically wrong, so the solution is "The SALT talks were cancelled today."
4. An acronymn for an item can become applied to a category. We start out with an Automatic Teller Machine, so we call it an ATM. But that needs a card to go with it, so now we have an ATM card. And there's an account to go with it, so we have an ATM account. So now we need to call the original machine an ATM machine, so it fits in the category. Plus, we now want to say that there's a place where the Automatic Teller Machine is found. What do we call that? When we ask, "Is there an ATM around here?" are we really asking whether there is such a machine, or whether there is a place we can use our card?
5. Other events take over. The Personal Computer is invented, so it's called a "PC." It uses a particular kind of software, controlled by a particular company, so when another company puts one out after the first one has already been associated with (or even trademarked) "PC," a new term is invented for the second computer. When the two need to be distinguished, "PC" becomes used as a label: "Is your computer a Mac or a PC?"

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Well said Meg. :-)

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To 'Unknown':

Fair enough, but then why are reading this site in the first place? In the context of this site, James' question is legitimate.

To Adam O:

First, if you think that using the word 'tautology' is pretentious, then you're just showing your ignorance. It's a perfectly everyday term for people interested in language. That's like saying that a physicist is pretentious for using the term 'quantum mechanics'.

Second, you’re also showing your ignorance of the term ‘tautology’ itself. James is not asking whether the phrase ‘discussion forum’ is redundant; he’s asking whether the phrase is a tautology. It is true that he could have instead asked if the word ‘discussion’ is redundant. But James’ chose to refer to the whole phrase in his question, and not the word ‘discussion’, and was therefore correct to use the word ‘tautology’ and not ‘redundant’.

To both:

It would perhaps be a good idea if you both actually went away and read some books – that is, books which have words rather than pictures in them - and then came back with some constructive and intelligent comments to make. Until then, you’ll just continue to make yourself look silly.

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I guess you can call it a tautology if you feel like sounding like a tool, but you could aslo just call it redundant.

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i dont give a damn

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I would only agree with Penny in the broadest sense. If there is any danger of ambiguity, then "discussion" can effectively narrow down the type of forum about which you are talking. In the case of an online forum that disambiguation is never necessary.

I suspect that the phrase naturally evolved from a perfectly logical construction, wherein one describes a forum that is designed for the discussion of a particular topic. It might have evolved something like this: "this forum is for the discussion of nuclear disarmament" -> "http://disarm.net - The Nuclear Disarmament Discussion Forum" -> "Welcome to our discussion forum. We are here to talk about nuclear disarmament." But of course this is pure speculation. Regardless of the tautology, this has become something of a set phrase. Frankly it doesn't bother me as much as the acronym-based redundancies that have become so common: "PIN number", "ATM machine", "PC computer", and so one. With these redundancies in place, we can no longer comfortably replace the acronyms with their longer forms as I feel we ought to be able to do.

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Well I'm kinda new here but I would say no. Only because (based on my Oxford Pocket Dictionary) "forum" in addition to being a place or periodical for public discussion, can also be defined as a court or tribunal. (Also an acient Roman public square but that more the historical meaning). By saying Discussion Forum you just narrow down the meaning.

That's my take on it. :D

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