Saturday, June 1, 2019

Still Life with Robin: ISO of a Non-Redundant Abbreviation

QWERTY Keyboard (Michael Maggs, Creative Commons)
by Peggy Robin

Maybe it’s something that comes in with the spring pollen but lately there’s been a rash of queries headed by the subject line: ISO of…. If you read that closely, you will realize that the abbreviation “ISO” is followed by a redundant “of”. Still don’t see the problem? It’s so easy to read right over it – but “ISO of” translates to “In Search Of Of”

I’ve been routinely correcting this little error in subject lines of listserv messages, but lately I've been thinking it’s getting out of hand (OOH?). Oh, I don’t mind at all when it’s in spoken English. We can’t help ourselves from saying things like “PIN number” (personal identification number number). I know I’ve said, “I need to find an ATM machine” (that’s an automated teller machine machine). And in some cases – especially if it’s an abbreviation of a technical thing and I’m not really sure what the letters stand for – I’ve made this kind of mistake in writing, for example, emailing someone to say “Send me the document in PDF format.” How many people know that means “portable document format format”? 

Still, everyone who knows anything at all about internet-speak knows that ISO stands for “In Search Of.” So there’s no justification whatever for typing that extra “of.”

Now, some of you who are reading this must be thinking, about now: “This must be the pettiest complaint ever!” No, it’s not. I’m about to drop an even pettier, peskier little irritant on you -- still on the subject of subject lines. People, if you are replying on a topic, always use RE: in the subject line. (You shouldn’t even have to think about it – it should be there automatically); otherwise NOT! “Re:” in common internet parlance does NOT mean “regarding,” as it does in old-school business correspondence. In an email, RE: means REPLY. So unless your message is a reply to a previous message, RE: has no business being there. Get rid of it! If you leave it in, it will just fool readers into thinking that your message is not a query or a comment on a new topic but a follow-up to a message already on the listserv. What’s worse, it may fool the automated Yahoogroups discussion-threading algorithm into thinking that your message should be tied to a previous message. (The entire Yahoogroups system is in such a snafu these days, that’s the least of its problems, but don’t get me started!)

So, folks, to sum up our two simple lessons for today:

1. Once you’ve written ISO, what follows immediately is the thing you are seeking; do NOT type “of.”
2. If it’s a reply, your subject line can start with RE: but otherwise, NO RE.

Here’s a little poem I just made up on the spot to help you memorize these two rules:

I – S – O is followed by the sought-for thing
RE: means REPLY; it does not mean re-gar-ding!

(Okay, it’s a painful rhyme, with the stress on the wrong syllable at the end, but if  that little annoyance helps to make these two rules stick in your brain, I’m not sorry!)

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.   


  1. Loved it!!! Thank you for this useful advice!!!

  2. RE: Robin's N-RA post.....Good One, Got it.

  3. With so many people STILL not using the Oxford comma, how can we be expected to pay attentions to such minor matters as "ISO of," "ATM Machine," and internet "RE?" :)

    1. You’re right, of course. Glad to see someone is focused on the truly important things in life!