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Re: PRI-10 Abbreviations and acronyms

From: Alan J. Flavell <flavell@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 17:57:28 +0100 (BST)
To: Chris Kreussling <CHRIS.KREUSSLING@ny.frb.org>
cc: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.OSF.4.10.9904281715390.20410-100000@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
I had written:

> > According to Modern English Usage 2nd edition, an acronym is a
> > pronounceable word formed from the initial letters of a phrase.  

On Wed, 28 Apr 1999, Chris Kreussling wrote:

> The emphasis on "pronouncable" acronyms is news to me.

No Sir, it isn't "news", it's an old fact.  The term "acronym" was
specifically coined for this purpose.  There was already a word,
"initialism", for an abbreviation that is formed from the initial
letters of a phrase without reference to whether it is pronounced or
spelled out.  But that term, "initialism", has remained rather a
specialist usage, and, as your reaction has demonstrated, the "news"
is that the word "acronym" has now lost its specific meaning, and has
to be interpreted as a synonym of "initialism". The conclusion seems
to be that we no longer have a word that unambiguously means "an
initialism that is meant to be pronounced as a word".

> What of "words" which are formed from only part of the full word,
> such as "Co." for "Copyright," or "Mr." for "Mister?" This is
> clearly an abbreviation, not an acronym. 

Of course: that was not in dispute.

> And these abbreviations
> are never spelled out, but pronounced in full!

Yes, but as they are neither acronyms (by either meaning of the term)  
nor initialisms, they are outside the scope of the current discussion.

> The opposite of "Modern English Usage."

No.  I don't understand what you're trying to prove by this assertion,
but unless it has some significance for the business of this group,
I'd respectfully suggest we not pursue that.

The only point I was trying to make was this.  I look in my reference
works (dictionary, MEU2 etc.), and they tell me that acronyms are
defined to be pronounceable,  You may also refer to
http://www.whatis.com/acronym.htm for further support of this view.

The HTML4.0 spec doesn't itself attempt to define the term "acronym":
it gives two examples that are pronounceable, and hence conform to the
original definition, but then wrecks the effect by stating 

  'Western languages make extensive use of acronyms such as "GmbH"...'

- referring to an unpronounceable initialism, not an acronym in the
original sense of the term.  The HTML4.0 spec goes on to say:

  "When necessary, authors should use style sheets to specify the
  pronunciation of an abbreviated form."

This now seems inevitable, as we seem to have concluded that no useful
guidance can be deduced from the fact that the markup chose ACRONYM
rather than ABBR.  A pity.

Best regards
Received on Wednesday, 28 April 1999 12:57:34 UTC

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