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There was the following statement in New York Time’s (June 1) article titled, “Sabbath Gasbags, Speak up.” - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/opinion/sunday/sabbath-gasbags-speak-up.html?hp

“My luck has been no better when I try to slip in a practical phrase like R.N.A. Placed at the end of a letter, R.N.A. means Reply Not Anticipated: you can reply if you want to, but the other person involved in this interchange is perfectly happy with things as they stand. R.N.A. didn’t catch on even after the advent of the Internet. When I put those initials at the bottom of e-mails, people tended to write back, “What does R.N.A. mean?” In other words, their response to Reply Not Anticipated was to reply.”

I concur with the author, Calvin Trillin’s take of the word, R.N.A. as a practical phrase, and am tempted to slip it in my e-mails, provided the word is “communicable” to internet users, many of whom cannot be bothered to respond.

What is the currency of R.N.A. actually? Can I say this is an English word, not my coinage, when I’m asked by my Anglophile mail recipients?

Does the word exist or had been used anywhere before the advent of Internet, as the author admits “It didn’t catch on even after the advent of the Internet.”? If not, are there any shorter forms to say ‘Responce not required’ in the same way as ‘Bye’ and ‘S.V.P.’?

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I've only seen RNA for 'ring, no answer' describing the outcome of a telephone call. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jun 2 '13 at 2:18
@cornbread ninja. As a second thought, RNA seems to be the invention of the author, Calvin Trillin, New Yorker contributor from the line, “My luck has been no better when I try to slip in a practical phrase like R.N.A.” –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 2 '13 at 2:53
Yes, having now glanced at the article which begins "[...] I’m still thinking about how much I envy Tom Brokaw for having managed to slip a phrase into the language. [...] I’ve never slipped in anything.", it is clear that it doesn't exist. –  terdon Jun 2 '13 at 3:03
Too Localised for me. I never heard of it, and since Googling rna email and rna acronym doesn't tell me what it means within the first page, obviously the answer to "How popular" is "Not at all". Having said that, I've signed off all my emails for almost 20 years with BFN. –  FumbleFingers Jun 2 '13 at 3:35
I find it hard to concur that something written about in the New York Times is "too localized." That's almost a national paper over here in the U.S. If a writer in the NYT says, "I use XYZ, but many of my friends don't seem to know what that means," then someone living in Japan ought to be able to ask, "Is this as common as the author seems to think it should be, or is he out in left field here?" What's out-of-bounds with that? (That was a rhetorical question – RNA.) –  J.R. Jun 2 '13 at 8:50
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closed as too localized by FumbleFingers, Kris, Rory Alsop, Mitch, MετάEd Jun 3 '13 at 3:19

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

For what its worth, this native speaker has never heard of it. I am obviously biased because I am a biologist but to my mind RNA can only stand for ribonucleic acid.

As for general usage, this Google Ngram shows that R.N.A.'s popularity peaked in the mid 60s which would imply it is indeed most often used for ribonucleic given the timeline of RNA biology's history.

In any case, reading the article you linked to, it becomes clear that the author is complaining about having failed to insert new expressions into English. RNA for response not expected is just one of the terms he has tried, and failed, to popularize.

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I'm not a biologist, but I took H.S. biology 20 years ago and ribonucleic acid, the genetic code of a virus if I remember correctly, was the first thing that came to my mind. The usage in question is vaguely familiar as if I'd heard a passing reference on it, but it seems unlikely to become widespread. –  TecBrat Jun 2 '13 at 3:46
What has the nGram to do with 'Reply Not Anticipated'? None of the instances of R.N.A. involved in the nGram relate to that expansion. The second para is misleading -- it is just that R.N.A. is now written as RNA. –  Kris Jun 2 '13 at 6:59
BTW, you have forgotten the last period after A: Try the nGram with the correct term R.N.A. -- it's a different graph! –  Kris Jun 2 '13 at 7:06
Kris. It seems I threw the best ball for your building up the world’s record of casting down-and-close balls among all EL&U users this time. As I commented earlier, I welcome your customary closing vote with this specific question. Oddly enough and unusually, your down-vote was legitimate and normal as far as this question concerns. I tried to cancel it soon after posting, but unfortunately I don’t know how. You’re real fan or addict of my posts, which I appreciate. Don’t worry. I assure you I’ll keep feeding you the sweetest fodder you drool for every morning. I won’t starve you. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 2 '13 at 8:59
Cont. Now that marking 15M reputation as a non-native English beginning learner, unlike you who happen to be a native English speaker, I enjoy the game of outscoring your down-votes every day. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 2 '13 at 9:00
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I agree with terdon; when I see RNA, what immediately springs to mind is ribonucleic acid.

That doesn't mean an acronym can't be overloaded. When I see the acronym ERA, I understand that it might be a pitching statistic, or it might be a referring to a U.S. political movement.

So, the question is, if RNA is put at the end of an email, is it common enough to be recognized by a majority of the recipients?

Count me among those who would say no, and recommend against its usage. I've seen "Replies not necessary," and I've seen "Negative replies not necessary" (when the sender only wants a response if you are, say, accepting an invitation), but I've never seen R.N.A.

I think the author here is mostly musing on the irony of the situation. Because he used an unfamiliar abbreviation to request no replies, he ended up getting exactly what he was trying to avoid – namely, a flood of messages in his inbox.

To answer your question, though: No, it's not a commonly recognized acronym, I don't think. If you were to slip it into an email, you'd likely suffer the same fate. I'd stick with a prose version: No need to send a reply.

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Soon after I posted this question and reread the text of the article, I realized R.N.A. is a coinage of the author. I was “misguided” with the look of convenience of the acronym. Thank you for your elaborating a kind answer as usual. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 2 '13 at 9:21
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Might this be the modern antonym of the (once common) practice of ending a letter with the sentence I look forward to receiving your reply or Anticipating your prompt response

There is no doubt that there is a niche just begging to be filled by a widely-recognised signal that will deter the flood of information-free and hence pointless responses to emails. As others have indicated, RNA seems unlikely to fill the bill.

I do remember fondly in my time as a minion of government the thrill of seeing a letter sent to one of political masters that had been marked (by higher authority) with the magic symbols N.R.R. (No reply required)!

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I didn’t know the idiom, ‘fill the bill,’ until I find in your answer. Though I don’t think my question this time was terribly good one, it’s worth having posted it for me, because I was able to add a handy, new English idiom to my stock.I learned that even a primitive question can earn new learning. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 2 '13 at 10:34
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