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RE: Deprecate <accronym> (was: Brainstorming - abbreviations)

From: Robert Brodrecht <w3c@robertdot.org>
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2007 12:35:52 -0600 (CST)
Message-ID: <49826.66.151.50.244.1174934152.squirrel@www.robertdot.org>
To: <lee_roberts@roserockdesign.com>
Cc: <public-html@w3.org>


Lee Roberts said:
>
> Previous standards were confusing and confused about <acronym> and
> <abbr>.
>
> As cited by Colin Lieberman:
>
> In HTML 4.01 :
> ABBR:
>     Indicates an abbreviated form (e.g., WWW, HTTP, URI, Mass., etc.).
> ACRONYM:
>     Indicates an acronym (e.g., WAC, radar, etc.).
>
> WWW as we all know represents World Wide Web.  How can this be an
> abbreviation when clearly it is an acronym?  In the example, the only
> two abbreviations that exist are Mass. and etc.; clearly Mass. is an
> abbreviation for Massachusetts and etc. is an abbreviation for etcetera.
> The remaining examples are acronyms.
>
> Acronymns do not need to make words.  Acronyms take letters from
> multiple words to create a shortened character set.  WAC in the acronym
> is not a word, however RADAR is.
>
> It would be best if we clear up confusions if we expect people to follow
> the examples and standards.
>

I tend to agree with how you think of acronyms vs. abbreviations (though,
I treat "et cetera" as two words, and thus use an acronym instead of an
abbreviation, which is arguable, I suppose, since Latin didn't make use of
spaces).  Technically, however, in the English language, "WWW", "HTTP",
and the like are called "initialisms."  I cannot find a clear answer as to
whether initialisms are acronyms or abbreviations.  I've always treated
them as acronyms.  However, some sources say that acronyms are only
shortenings of multiple words that form a new word (e.g. RADAR, LASER). 
In that case, there is an inherent ambiguity in certain abbreviations,
like SQL, that are commonly both spelled out and said as a word (saying
SQL as either "es que ell" or "sequel").  Depending on the author's
preference, it could be an acronym or an abbreviation (if initialisms are
not acronyms).

That said, we still have two words in English grammar to describe the two
types of word shortining (ignoring "initialism").  Despite the ambiguity
in the language, there was enough of a reason to have both "abbreviation"
and "acronym" to exist, not only as words in the English language, but in
English grammar (the English metalanguage... the jargon about the English
language).

To me, for semantics in marking up English language documents, there is a
significant difference between the two elements to warrant leaving the
item in the HTML 5 specification.  I can't speak to other languages that
use both.  There might be a better reason to keep two separate elements if
another language is used.

However, if <acronym> is kept, I would like to find a real, definitive
definition of how "initialisms" work in relation to it, and clearly state
that in the specification to avoid any further accusations about the
ambiguity of the two elements.

The other option, to me, is to drop <acronym> and change the semantic
value of <abbr> to "a shorter version of a string" so that clever tricks
like shortened date formats used in Microformats patterns are valid
semantic uses of <abbr>.

-- 
Robert <http://robertdot.org>
Received on Monday, 26 March 2007 18:21:21 GMT

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