Mighty Red Pen

July 19, 2009

Please RSVP

Filed under: Pet peeves,Word wars — mighty red pen @ 6:06 pm

So here’s a question for you: Given that RSVP stands for répondez s’il vous plait (respond if you please), is it redundant to say Please RSVP, as many invitations do? MRP has been known to edit an invitation that include this phrase to say, instead, please respond.

And what’s your sense of using RSVP as a verb, as in Have you RSVPed to the party yet?

Er, please respond.

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12 Comments »

  1. ‘is it redundant to say Please RSVP…?’

    Yes. It’s as redundant as “ATM machine”. “S’il vous plaît” translates literally as “if it you pleases”, i.e., “if it pleases you”, but it effectively means “please”. So “Please RSVP” might as well be “Please respond please.”

    In A Dictionary of Modern American Usage Bryan Garner notes that ‘Increasingly, AmE is making the acronym a verb meaning either “to respond” or “to make reservations” . That’s probably why please RSVP is becoming so common.’

    This seems a plausible explanation for its prevalence.

    Comment by Stan — July 20, 2009 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  2. Oh, Garner’s examples disappeared because they were in HTML brackets. They weren’t essential to my comment but, for the record, what is now inside the single quotation marks is not a direct quote from his book. Next time I’ll use ellipses…

    Comment by Stan — July 20, 2009 @ 9:01 am | Reply

  3. I’ll raise you one: I recently received an invitation that included “Please Respond RSVP.”

    In this instance, the writer surely thought that “RSVP” was a fancy way of saying “ASAP.” It does raise a question, though – should we count on the reader’s understanding of French? Perhaps more importantly – why not abuse the French language now and then, just for sport? What could be more anglophone than that?

    Comment by Neil — July 21, 2009 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  4. If “please RSVP” is redundant, then so is “Sahara desert”, “La Brae Tar Pits”, “chai tea”, etc etc. In other words, let’s not expect English speakers to know another language in order to speak English.

    Also, redundancy isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

    Comment by goofy — July 23, 2009 @ 10:54 am | Reply

  5. goofy: Fair points. I don’t expect English speakers to know another language in order to speak English, but it’s quite common for people who don’t know another language to know at least a few basic words or phrases in a few foreign languages, such as for hello, goodbye, please and thank you. RSVP is evidently being anglicised in a variety of ways, but I see nothing wrong with drawing attention to its meaning in French, at least in appropriate contexts.

    Comment by Stan — July 23, 2009 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  6. @goofy – I disagree. You’re comparing apples and oranges. “Sahara”, “Chai”, and “La Brea” are all proper nouns but cite a specific place or item, whereas “RSVP” is a phrase. Totally different usage.

    Comment by Ceddy — April 27, 2010 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

  7. Ceddy
    I don’t see the point in making a distinction. All these usages mentioned so far are a word or phrase borowed from another language, coupled with an English word that means the same as one of the borrowed words. From that point of view they’re all the same.

    Comment by Goofy — April 30, 2010 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  8. I don’t expect english-speaking folks to understand french (or other languages)…but if an english speaking person is going be using a word (i.e. RSVP), then at that point i would expect them to know the meaning of at least that word or phrase.

    Comment by eric — April 8, 2011 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

  9. I’d argue that when people write “please RSVP”, they *do* understand the meaning of the word “RSVP”. It means “to respond to an invitation”.

    Comment by goofy — April 14, 2011 @ 11:25 am | Reply

  10. Yes it’s redundant, as redundant as ATM machine. There are TONS of words in the English language that come directly from other languages, so I think it’s fair to expect that native English speakers have a good handle on their own tongues and all of the foreign words that pepper their language. I guess that’s too much to expect from such intelligent and cultured people. Kitty corner is a great example. The French version has such a lovely, rational meaning. Kitty corner is as American as the public liberry. Don’t get me started about such fancy words as ketchup.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 9, 2012 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  11. In goofy’s defense: Sahara means “The Great Desert” (so saying the “Sahara Desert” is essentially saying “The Great Desert Desert”), and “chai” does mean “tea” in many languages/regions (notwithstanding its being branded by the likes of Starbucks). Since La Brea in the area stolen from Mexico by the Americans, I suppose they have conqueror’s rights to exploit the (name of) La Brea Tar Pits (brea=’tar’) as they see fit?

    Comment by docb — August 16, 2012 @ 10:48 am | Reply

  12. And for what it’s worth, I prefer to exclude the “please” from RSVP. If the sensibilities of my potential guests are somehow offended by a lonesome “RSVP” because it isn’t polite enough for them, I’d rather not have them at my party!

    Comment by docb — August 16, 2012 @ 10:50 am | Reply


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